We had the good fortune of connecting with Nancy Alvarez & Shannon Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nancy Alvarez &, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
As a child (Nancy), I grew up in El Salvador and my family later moved to Los Angeles. In Latin-American culture, children are introduced to coffee from a very early age since most of the coffee served around the world grows near the equator it tends to be a staple in every home. My family and I would often go to coffee farms on the weekends and that was my introduction to the world of coffee not realizing at the time that many decades later I would be trying to share it with the world. Coffee is a way for me to feel connected to my roots and a vessel to be able to share my culture.
Even though Los Angeles is a melting pot of cultures from around the world it can still feel like you do not belong at times. I have spent most of my life living here and oftentimes there were places I did not feel welcome or embraced. With maturity, I learned that sometimes you have to create a space of your own if there is not one for you. Being an immigrant queer woman of color holds many complex identities and I wanted to create a business that represented that because we all are more than just one identity. Often times we see business as just a building or office but behind every business there are people and people are complex. I want to bring all my identities to the table because it is what makes me, me. We want Monster Coffee Roasters to be just that, a space of our own where everyone despite who they are is welcome.
What should our readers know about your business?
We started Monster Coffee Roasters because we wanted to empower everyone to drink good coffee at home or on the go no matter their coffee knowledge level. We remain committed to that mission. We want to provide everyone with tools and share our knowledge to help people improve their coffee routine. At the same time, we recognize the importance of the representation of women and other historically excluded groups in the coffee world, especially queer women of color, which are even less visible. Often times women are not considered experts or there seems to be an affordability barrier to being considered an expert. We want to show people that representation is important particularly in male-dominated industries. When you look at the regions of the world where coffee grows you see that is often in, black and brown countries but we tend not to think about the farmers and growers when we think about coffee. We want to reclaim the industry and carve out a place in it for people that look like us to make the world a better place one cup of coffee at a time.
Being a small business owner is never easy. There are always obstacles to overcome but what keeps us motivated is staying true to our mission and remember that is more than just coffee for us. Being queer women of color in our society is complicated but we see it as our superpowers. We want everyone that grew up believing they could not be proud of who they are to be their authentic selves. We have been very fortunate to have made Long Beach our home because we feel we can be proud of who we are and be our true ourselves here.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
When you mention Los Angeles, the first thing people think about is Hollywood and celebrities, so when friends come to visit we find it a good way to start there. We would start our trip with all the tourist things to do: drive through Hollywood boulevard, find their favorite celebrity’s star, visit The Grove, and while we are there grab a donut at Sidecar Doughnuts, their Eggs Benedict is a favorite of mine. Once we get all the tourist stuff out of the way, we can go on a hike to the Griffith Observatory since it is a great spot to watch a sunset. We can end the night with some ice cream at Wanderlust Creamery. Their flavors rotate so it is often a surprise what flavors they have. One of my favorites has been their Atol de Elote ice cream, Sweet corn ice cream warmed with specks of vanilla bean, and Ceylon cinnamon. They captured my childhood and made it delicious ice cream! The next day we would visit one of the many museums. Los Angeles has a huge art scene; The Broad and LACMA have some of the best collections. After that, we can stop for some Korean BBQ at Hae Jang Chon Korean BBQ. Grab some Alchemist Coffee while we wait in line since lines are always a thing for a good Korean BBQ place. We can easily spend hours at Grand Park and Grand Central Market, but we cannot have visitors from out of town without taking them to some of our favorite taco places such as Teddy’s Tacos, Sonoratown, Homestate in Los Angeles, and La Taqueria Brand in Long Beach. While in Long Beach we can pick up some of the best boba in LA at Loose Leaf Boba Company, their Pandan Pina Collision is what made me fall in love with them. To end we have to spend at least one day at the beach and Junipero Beach is the perfect place to relax, go on a bike ride or just enjoy the day. We love places and restaurants that embrace their culture and share it with the rest of us. We all have more in common than we usually see and what better way to discover our similarities and differences than with food.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Are you familiar with the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”? Well, we see our business as our child and a whole village supporting us to make it successful. Besides our family and friends that have been there for us every step of the way, we would like to give thanks to Danilo Batson from Spicy Green Book. His project, which highlights Black Food businesses, gave us the opportunity to connect with so many wonderful creatives that helped us bring our branding to life. We also could not have done it without Dina Feldman from Feel Good Salsa Kitchen. We initially met her when we applied to be part of her shared commercial kitchen in Long Beach, but we quickly realized she was more than just a kitchen owner. She is not only an entrepreneur herself but has also has become a mentor to us, guiding us, connecting us to other people, and opening doors we did not know existed. We are incredibly grateful to them for their support and for helping us make our visions a reality.