Starting a business requires intense focus, drive, and commitment. Pair that with a drive to succeed, a strategy for empowering every person you touch, and the energizing strength of Colombian coffee, and you have Unlocked Coffee Roasters. Andres Camargo and Rocio Salazar are taking local business to the next level, as a vehicle for community empowerment propelled by their values-based leadership.
Honoring Colombian Contributions
This newlywed couple launched Unlocked Coffee Roasters on International Coffee Day in 2018. While the space for their first brick-and-mortar shop in the West End Art District is being built out, they are expanding their local roasting and online retail customer base.
Through their success, Andres and Rocio are dedicated to honoring their heritage by supporting the farmers at the head of their product pipeline. Coffee is a major part of the cultural identity of Colombians - the people known to their Latin American neighbors as Los Cafeteros: “The Coffee People.” But the low price of coffee in the current market, and chronic underpayment by coffee importers is threatening the farms that produce the world’s finest coffee beans.
“We want to develop a direct relationship with the farmer, so we can pay a fair price. Our goal is to be a bridge between them and the United States,” Andres explains. In this way, the couple hopes to assist generations-old heritage farms that might otherwise sell their land or switch crops.
Love Thy Neighbor
As they anticipate opening their shop this December, the duo is deeply considering the influence they will have as a local employer. Unlocked Coffee Roasters will be partnering with Mill Village Farms and Shepherd’s Gate Women’s Shelter to provide homeless women and West Greenville youth with a caring environment for attaining work skills, supporting continuing education, and connecting to long-term employment.
“They will find more than a job,” Andres says of his future staff community, “They will find a place where they feel secure and loved.”
Addressing her future employees Rocio challenges, “Maybe you have the discipline and the characteristics of a business owner!” Rocio built and ran her own advertising firm in Colombia, so she is naturally committed to fostering the next generation of home-grown entrepreneurs in her new community of Greenville.
The couple’s passion for serving others is evident in their dedicated service with the Hispanic Alliance Financial Stability Community Team, which Andres chairs. This talented group of volunteers teaches classes in Spanish on Basic Financial Literacy and a How to Start your own Business series for other budding entrepreneurs. It is a beautiful piece of symmetry that the couple is taking the journey of business ownership at the same time as others that they have mentored.
A Place Where Everyone is Welcome
Andres immigrated to the US when he was just 19, settling in Connecticut. To combat the stress of finding his place in a new country, he created his own tiny community in a coffee shop, the place where everyone knew his name. Once in Greenville, he recognized that the city possessed the warmth and connection that he had been missing for many years. “When I say I love Greenville,” Andres explains, “I feel this is as close as I could possibly get to my country. I’ve never had that feeling before in any other city or state.” Andres was able to sell his fiancée on the vision of the community they could build in Greenville that would mirror the warmth of their home culture.
Rocio adds, “People are always welcoming of diversity here – to see something new. When they hear that the business is owned by a Hispanic couple, they say, ‘Oh, that’s wonderful!’” She is also touched by notes she has received from Colombian natives in the Greenville area, eager to reconnect to the authentic coffee experience they have missed.
Creating an enjoyable experience, and a safe and welcoming place for all people and cultures to connect is a gift they wish to give back to their new home town. Andres summarizes, “The business model is intentional - a way of blessing other people. We are building it with love; we are building it with equality.”
Amen. If you build it, we will come.