Thursday, May 22, 2008

Entrepreneur Spotlight: Michelle Cruz

(Michelle Cruz, left, promotes her East Harlem Café, serving coffee at an outdoor poetry event in El Barrio last summer.)

Michelle Cruz Creates Business and Cultural Space at East Harlem Café

Michelle Cruz’s East Harlem Café, with special Spanish Harlem coffee blends, holds back the tide of change and brings a taste of Latino coffee back home to the barrio.

East Harlem Café has found a home at 104th street and Lexington Avenue, a storefront Cruz is renting in NYC's El Barrio. The new café opens Friday, June 6, with an opening event planned for 2 p.m. that day.

"The idea originated because I love cafes, listening to Jazz, reading a book and hanging out," said Cruz, who grew up in El Barrio and wants to run a café that feels like home.

She knows about brewing and serving a good cup of coffee. She has spent her lifetime studying the cozy quality of a café where patrons can drink coffee from fresh roasted beans, hear Miles Davis, read and enjoy an element of culture in her café. And, she wants to bring her own vision of a café to her beloved El Barrio.

“What makes a good cup of coffee?” Cruz asked.

She responded, “Quality beans and friendly service…I’ve gone to almost every café in the city to get the vibe and get
the feeling of how I like to be treated and how I like to feel.”

Old grinds that sit on a shelf for too long, she said, make for a bitter cup of Joe.

Cruz has always wanted to her own business and a café is the perfect fit. Cruz has developed a business plan, lined up
funding and selected coffee vendors.

“The most important thing is to know how to run a business financially,” said Cruz who studied business
and accounting and graduated from Hostos and Baruch colleges. “We’re not only about serving coffee, but we’re about serving culture as well."

The community aspect is an important part of her business. That's why Cruz and her best friend Grace have showed glimpses of the future East Harlem Café for the past year at various community activities in East Harlem, giving customers friendly and professional service and a warm Latino home style feeling for every coffee cup they serve.

“I want a place where people meet up before events, socialize,” Cruz said. “When I’ve visited casitas, I like that whole idea of family. I want to create a third place. You know how they say the home is the first place, work is the second place and I want to create a third place where the community can feel ownership.” -- Robert Waddell

For more information, visit

(Photos courtesy of Michelle Cruz)
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