By Nataly Vasquez
For Manuel Guerrero, owner of Hope Café located on 605 E. 2nd St. in Calexico, Hope Café symbolizes family, friends, positive vibes, and success. Manuel does a little bit of everything in the business. Besides being the owner, he works in the kitchen, as a waiter, and even greets people as they come through the door. Manuel puts in a lot of effort in his business. His mother and aunt help him in the finance area of the business. Hope Café has been open for a year and a half, and it has successfully been a hit since the day it opened. Manuel comes from hard working parents who are the owners of Raspados Cuchis, but opening a café was Manuel’s dream ever since he was a young kid.
As a resident of Calexico, Manuel noticed that there wasn’t a café in the valley dedicated to the younger generation. Café businesses are usually seen in much bigger cities such as San Diego or even across the border, in Mexicali. Manuel brought up the idea to his mother about opening a café in Calexico. “I explained to my mom my ideas about the café, but at that time Starbucks had just opened, so she doubted me. She questioned me about how I was going to open a café when there was already a Starbucks,” said Manuel. He then explained to his mother that he did not want a corporate café; he wanted a different style of café with a more welcoming environment.
With that in mind, after many years, Manuel decided to attend culinary school in Mexicali. That is where he learned about desserts and crepes. He learned the concept of food little by little and started to buy things related to the idea or concept of the café he wanted. After culinary school, he began to look for the perfect location for his café. Manuel explains, “I wanted a house or a place that brought that housewarming vibe, where you can relax and feel at home.” It took Manuel a couple of years trying to look for the perfect place, but with the help of his mom, they found a house on Second Street in Calexico.
Even though Manuel found the perfect location for his business, he went through some difficulties and challenges. It was hard for him at first because when he asked permission at the Calexico City Hall, they told him that the café has to be located in a commercialized zone. Manuel did not give up, and he gave the house a chance anyways. When he saw the house the first time, he did not expect the house to need lots of repair. “The house was a disaster; it almost looked like a haunted house, but little by little we started reconstructing it, painting it, and placing ornaments,” said Manuel. That is when Manuel’s mom started questioning him one more time, she said, “What exactly do you want to do with this place? What is the concept you want from this?” Manuel responded, “I just want a house so that people can sit down, relax, and drink a cup of coffee or just to talk-something people can look forward
The coffee house itself is divided by rooms and each room has a different theme that is inspired by Manuel’s likes and interests. Every room is set up differently with its unique style. In the entrance, the first room when walking in, is the Hope Room-the theme is inspired by his grandma’s house. Then there is the Frida Kahlo Room, which is colorfully inspired by Mexican art. As for the other rooms, there is a Paris Room, a Comic/Superhero Room, and a Hollywood Room. Manuel and his mother would wake up early to go to yard sales in order to find the perfect furniture for each room. It took them about a year to open and transform the house into a café.
Hope Café is named after Manuel’s grandmother, Esperanza, which means “Hope” in English. She died seven or eight years ago. The logo of the café is a hummingbird and it is related to his grandma as well. His grandma loved hummingbirds. A week after she died, Manuel’s mother sat outside their house patio and saw a hummingbird. His mother found it strange because she was not used to seeing hummingbirds outside her home. All of a sudden, the hummingbird stopped in the water fountain in their patio, and then sat next to his mother. Manuel’s mother got emotional and told Manuel what had just happened. At first, Manuel did not believe her, until the hummingbird flew next to his shoulder. That is when he remembered how much his grandma loved hummingbirds. “Usually, the meaning behind a hummingbird is that it is a symbol of a good sign, and so we incorporated the whole story into the café,” Manuel explains. That is why there is a room inspired by his grandma-it is a memorial for her because she taught Manuel a lot about life. “I think that is why people can identify with the café. Who doesn’t like going to their grandma’s house and feel that comfort,” says Manuel.
All types of people enjoy coming to Hope Café, from children to adults. Many people from outside the Valley have also visited Hope Café. People from Arizona, San Diego, Mexico, Washington, and many other places have stopped at Hope Café to try the delicious crepes. The menu is based on what Manuel studied in culinary school. The recipes are very simple and practical but are also combined with different flavors so that people can try something new. The most requested crepes are the “Celestial” and “Memories.” Both crepes are sweet. The “Celestial” crepe has cream cheese and fruit, while “Memories” has strawberries, bananas, almonds, and chocolate inside. Besides crepes, the menu has three kinds of croissants to choose from: Siracha chicken, Italian, and Chipotle tuna. The food is healthy and almost everything is made from scratch. “I wanted to make a menu that was healthy and light, and in the future I want to incorporate other desserts and change it up a bit so people can try new foods. There are also promotions happening during the week like two for one beverage. The promotions are announced on our Facebook Page.”
Hope Café also hosts summer events and courses in paper mache flower making and classes about sexuality. Anyone is welcome to come and even promote their products and arts crafts. People can also host lectures and meetings, and a room can be reserved for parties. What is cool about Hope Café is people have the freedom to come and enjoy anything. It also hosts a bazaar where people can show their artwork or sell their products, but that usually starts in the fall, when the weather starts to cool down.
Manuel’s future plan is to open another Hope Café. However, with the help of his parents, family, and the community, he is striving to make the business a success. Manuel advises young entrepreneurs to never stop dreaming about their goals or business and that anything is possible. All they have to do is start and take the risk. He also says that it is important not to let anyone stop you or step on your dreams because the only thing that can get in the way is you, if you let it happen. “I never thought Hope Café was going to turn out like this, with many people from all over the Valley coming to visit. It was life changing from night to day. I never thought something so great would happen to me,” Manuel says with a lot of joy and pride.