Long and winding road: From a Guatemalan farm to a SE coffee shop
CafÉ Zamora, a short distance west of Cesar Chavez Blvd (formerly 39th), at 3713 S.E. Gladstone Street, is a small cozy coffee shop – enhanced by a back yard with tables, for use in good weather.
For twenty-six year old owner Hector Mejia Zamora, it is a dream come true.
Hector's path to owning a coffee shop was long, and full of hard work. However, all along the way, he was – even sometimes miraculously – helped by people who saw something special in his dream.
Hector's father died when he was fourteen, and his mother took over his father's coffee farm in Central America, while also taking care of her three children. At age sixteen he began helping to manage his mother's farm, and at eighteen he started a distribution business, delivering bananas from his village to Guatemala City.
He increased the salary of the farmers in his village and the surrounding villages, and improved their working conditions. Word spread, and the business expanded. Two years later he sold the business, and used the money to start his own coffee plantation on two acres of land from his mother's farm.
In order to help her son gain U.S. residency, his mother moved to Portland to be with her elder son, while Hector stayed in Guatemala. Soon the rest of his family was in Portland, and they were concerned about Hector working seventeen-hour days on the coffee farm. So, at age twenty, he got his U.S. residency and happily moved in with his whole family in Southeast Portland.
With a $120 gift from his family he began two years of studying English and three terms of business classes at Portland Community College. He bought a bicycle at Goodwill for fifteen dollars, and that allowed him also to work at a fast food restaurant cooking hamburgers to help pay his tuition.
Nine months later he got a job as a lens washer at an Optical Lab. Over four years he was given five promotions, and his salary was doubled. By saving his money he was able to buy a car three years ago, and start driving for Lyft.
It was a Lyft rider who heard his story, and helped him connect with a Guatemalan roaster, who began buying green coffee beans from his farm back home. He eventually made a deal for selling 50,000 pounds of beans – and then met another Lyft rider who envisioned a Guatemalan version of himself in Hector, and helped him find the spot for his own coffee shop in the Creston-Kenilworth neighborhood.
Hector opened the shop this year and named it "CafÉ Zamora", using his mother's last name to honor her hard work, and the role model and encouragement she provided him along his path, which led to fulfilling his dream of owning a coffee shop featuring Guatemalan coffee. But not quite yet – he still had to learn how to do it.
Barista school in Portland was too expensive, so he returned to Guatemala and took classes in the capital city. While there, he purchased more acres to enlarge his coffee plantation, and committed to making it self-sufficient, and a benefit to his employees. "I want to empower my people and improve their lives."
He also credits his sister and brother as being additional role models for hard work and perseverance. He has plans to increase coffee importation from Guatemala, and connect with other coffee shops in Portland. For him, it is a joy "having the opportunity to create and be a part of the community here, and be a connection between the two countries."
One customer says of Hector, "He has a huge heart, and big goals for himself and his people, and he's just, kind, and driven – and [he is] the kind of people that we honestly want in our country."
Hector is grateful to be able to work every day on his dream, which was also his father's dream. He reflects, "I feel that my father is with me every day."
To see learn more about the cafÉ and Hector's story, go online – www.cafezamorapdx.com
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