One of Echo Park’s newest cafe, Tierra Mia,is on an horchata-latte high that has helped propel the small business on a rapid expansion throughout Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
Tierra Mia has set itself apart from the rest in the artisan coffee scene by serving their java with a Latino flair. Baristas serve up the usual cups of coffee and espresso in addition to specialty drinks like the Coco Loco latte and the Rice and Beans frappe, made with a mix of coffee, horchata, a sweet, rice-based drink, and ground coffee beans. They are currently working on their newest addition, an horchata latte cupcake.
Tierra Mia, which first opened in South Gate in 2008, ventured out of its typically Latino neighborhood niche and into the Eastside earlier this year, opening a new location on Alvarado street in Echo Park. Tierra Mia leased the space that had previously housed the Downbeat Cafe for more than ten years.
Taking the place of a neighborhood favorite, a new cafe could be received with indifference and sometimes outright protest, but Tierra Mia is slowly gathering a solid following in Echo Park, as business begins to pick up and the lines start to get longer.
“People in the neighborhood are getting to know us and we are starting to get return customers,” said Ulysses Romero, founder and president of Tierra Mia. “[Creating quality coffee] became the core of what we do, which will help us have appeal in any neighborhood.”
Tierra Mia remains bakes their own pastries and use their own vintage Probat roasters to roast coffee beans that were handpicked by Romero on family owned farms in Central and South America.
“My intention was always to create the coffee house that a Latino person would want to go to by creating a menu that was appealing to them. We try to create something that people will like and that they will be excited about,” Romero said.
The idea for Tierra Mia came to Romero, in 2006, shortly after completing his MBA at Stanford. After working as a consultant within different corporate settings, the now 35-year-old, first-generation Mexican-American decided on starting his own business.
“In those jobs, I didn’t feel satisfied. It didn’t seem like it was what I wanted to do, and I felt that starting my own business made more sense,” Romero said.
In 2006, when brainstorming ideas for what would make a successful business, Romero considered the rapid growth of the specialty coffee market as well as the steady increase in the Latino population.
According to the Minority Business Development Agency, Latino-owned businesses have increased by 44% and Tierra Mia is an example of that. In the past 18 months, Tierra Mia has experienced a whirlwind expansion within the past 18 months, managing to open four new locations. Their eighth location in Lynwood is currently in the last leg of construction and although the pace has certainly picked up, Romero believes it is a healthy growth and they have not compromised quality for quantity.
“There’s a clear connection between coffee and Latin America and if we can bring them together a little more and cater to the Latino population, I think the Latino population would like that and prefer to have a coffee house like that,” Romero said.
Romero said one of his biggest motivators in wanting to expand the business is to create more jobs. Tierra Mia currently employs 120 full-time and part-time employees and plans to expand their workforce by 18 employees once their new location in Lynwood opens.
“Everytime we open a successful store we are creating one or two full time roles with folks that can help support their families. At a busy store we can create up to 20 jobs and it’s especially important when we go into neighborhoods where the economy has hit them a little harder,” Romero said.
Romero said they want to focus on growing their presence in Los Angeles and that there is opportunity to continue to grow in the Bay Area and the rest of California.
He said their social media is abuzz with requests from patrons who want a Tierra Mia on their side of town. The Inland Empire, Orange County and the Central Valley are all possible locations for the next Tierra Mia.
Lucy Guanuna, a journalism student at Cal State Northridge, has reported on a variety of issues, including business, education and social justice movements in her native Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Daily Sundial, L.A. Activist, and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.