When Stephanie Vaszquez took over Fair Trade Cafe she had a goal in mind — to create an epicenter in Phoenix that reflected the city’s heart and sense of community. Intentionality helped Vaszquez turn her small cafe into a case-study of how local doesn’t have to mean less impactful.
Every Tuesday 10% of the cafe’s profits are donated to a nonprofit of the customers choosing. A piece of paper at the register helps patrons cast their vote and with each one Vaszquez is able to step further into her mission.
“My business is a reflection of me, my family, and my ancestors,” explains Vaszquez. “Culturally speaking, in my household, we were always shown to lend a hand and be respectful to others. Everyday, I bring those attributes to my business.”
A love for coffee and a passion for good are ultimately what gave Vaszquez the courage to leave a job in education and open a small business.
“I realized that a cup of coffee went through many hands and generations of knowledge, which was pridefully passed along in order for me to enjoy it,” notes Vaszquez. “I realized that my small daily purchase was supporting the livelihood of families from regions all over. [Since then] I became a student of coffee and the process of starting a business.”
Below Vaszquez shares how she made the leap from educator to small business owner, how she makes sure her establishment has an impact, and what her advice is for Latinxs.
Vivian Nunez: What was your biggest lesson learned from the transition from your career as an educator to that of being your own boss and running your own business?
Stephanie Vasquez: The biggest lesson I have learned as an entrepreneur has been to always follow my intuition and avoid doubting myself. Leaving my childhood dream career of becoming an educator to start a business has taken courage and is an example of how I had to believe in myself. I had to take that leap and not look back, even without knowing that everything was going to work out.
Nunez: What has growth looked like for the company? How have you promoted growth?
Vasquez: Downtown Phoenix wasn’t what it is now and Fair Trade Cafe has been a pillar as the city has grown. Throughout the years, the shop has been the meeting room and planning space for a multitude of projects, policies, nonprofits and progressive growth. The intention of the cafe has always been to serve as a space for our community — a place that also happens to serve delicious coffee. I attribute much of the continued growth of the cafe from the space it provides to so many. From early on, I would walk into the cafe and experience an indescribable feeling. I now understand that the feeling was love. It’s the love that has been left from people on both sides of the counter. I have learned so much about business and life from the people that have been in and out of the shop throughout the years.
Nunez: How have you gotten the local community to rally around your coffee shop?
Vasquez: The community has organically rallied since the beginning when I wasn’t even sure if we were going to make it. At Fair Trade Cafe, I have created a welcoming and safe environment. I also ensure that our products are ethically and locally sourced to continue to build a strong local economy and positively impact surrounding regions. When customers come in, they’re greeted by the beautiful aroma of Fair Trade Organic shade grown coffees, the sounds of cultural music and by friends on either side of the counter.
Nunez: Once a week you donate 10% of your profits to a nonprofit that the customers get to vote on with every purchase — how did this idea come about and how has it resonated with your customers?
Vasquez: Nurturing and caring for those around us is how I was raised and I started Giving Tuesdays’ on this foundation. The idea birthed from the realization of the symbiotic relationship between local businesses and the community. Giving Tuesdays’ also began as a way to highlight all of the incredible work that the Phoenix nonprofits are doing. I wanted to find a way to show patrons that their dollars are powerful while showing other businesses the impact of giving back. The initiative allows our customers to choose their favorite nonprofits to give back to.
Nunez: What advice do you have for Latinxs who are looking to start a business that also has a giveback component to it?
Vasquez: Growing a successful business and having a connected community go hand-in-hand. I strongly believe that there is a “magic sauce” in any business that has a giveback component to it. If from the beginning your business is set up to pour back into the community, then in my opinion, your business is set up to succeed.
Nunez: What has been the most challenging moment in growing Fair Trade Cafe and how did you navigate through it?
Vasquez: Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, my educational and professional background was in education. It was challenging to create a business without any business and entrepreneurial experience. This could have easily held me back from creating Fair Trade Cafe but instead, I used this as a growth opportunity. I have learned to seek advice, knowledge and support from those who are experienced and successful in the business world. I now understand that it’s perfectly fine not to have all the answers from the beginning. As a Latina, a business woman and a community leader, I’m learning to embrace growth opportunities and I’m excited for what’s to come!