Words by Chuck Cerankosky, photos by Carrie Starr
Very often when you first encounter a barista-to-be, they proclaim with some degree of sincerity that someday they would like to open their own café. I know this because for over a decade I managed Java’s: that venerable, neo-bohemian institution of caffeine that still thrives on Gibbs Street in Rochester's East End.
When I interviewed - and subsequently hired - Tony Colón to work the Java’s espresso machine back in 2003, his stated goal didn't seem all that unique. His energy surely was, though, and years later I never stop being impressed with the scope of his ambitions, no matter how far-fetched they seem to be. Joined by his wife Renée, one of these ambitions was realized in 2013 with the opening of Fuego, their first Rochester coffee house, über-popular among the local arabica cognoscenti despite being located in the veritable beverage Siberia that is Liberty Pole Way.
Cafés themselves have always been cornerstones of culture, at the forefront of one progressive movement or another. A coffeehouse might make a stand for sustainability with the cups it serves its drinks in; take a position on farming practices with the milk it steams its lattes with; or support a social movement with the events it hosts.
In the case of Fuego, the Colóns and their team of direct trade baristas are no strangers to their café’s role as a cultural bastion. “Come for the coffee, stay for the community,” has always been an appropriately-spoken mantra there. Now, however, Tony’s ambitions are intersecting with his shop’s mission to do good, and they are setting out to achieve something unprecedented - and far beyond the walls of the coffee counter in Rochester.
Within the next few weeks, in partnership with the entrepreneurial Enactus chapter at Roberts Wesleyan College, Fuego will open a coffeeshop in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. The Colóns have purchased a roaster, espresso machine, and brewing equipment for this outpost of Fuego, and they will spend two weeks in Huehuetenango training a staff of local baristas on proper roasting and brewing techniques.
The baristas-to-be themselves make for a story all their own. Enactus and Fuego are staffing the Huehuetenango café with young women and teenage mothers who are aging out of an orphanage and women’s shelter there. The coffeeshop will provide these young baristas with much-needed opportunities for safe and gainful employment. Fuego Huehuetenango will be managed by Roberts Wesleyan alumni, and Colón and crew will visit quarterly to provide assistance and training support.
Tony Colón grew up in Malone, an isolated town in upstate New York, 12 miles south of the Canadian border. “I moved to Rochester because I always had a dream to open my own cafe,” he says. He adds that his years at Java’s, beginning as a barista and moving on to management, was the experience necessary for him to open Fuego. With the Huehuetenango location, Colón hopes to inspire others to do the same. “Coffee was the avenue to my success,” he says, “and I hope to use our project in Guatemala as a mentorship program for orphans to find their path.”