Convivio Café becomes Guatemalan-inspired, bilingual oasis for Latinos

After a whirlwind couple of months, Kristin Lacy and Vivi Lemus finally took a few moments to sit down on the secondhand furniture that fills Convivio Café in northwest Denver.

The fledgling entrepreneurs soaked in the vibes of the community they’d cultivated: Patrons chatting around them under rows of string lights, drinking warm coffees and teas with a Guatemalan flair as Spanish-language music softly crooned in the background. Customers reading, working and conversing in Spanglish while munching on black beans and chips.

“This is a dream that’s so many years in the making, and so many little hands from all over made it happen, from the community to the farmers and the friendships,” Lacy said, her eyes welling. “Hearing people speak in both languages, it’s like ‘Oh my God.’

“It just hit me that this is really working.”

At the café, which opened in November at 4935 W. 38th Ave., Lacy and Lemus’ years-long vision is now coming to fruition. They aimed to establish the first women-owned, Guatemalan-inspired, bilingual café in Denver.

Lacy lived in Guatemala from 2012 to 2015, working with farmers and learning about the country’s coffee supply chain. Lemus was born and raised in Guatemala and moved to Denver about 20 years ago.

Both women, who met in the Denver nonprofit scene, longed to bring the concept of convivio — a Spanish word for gathering community around a table to share food, drinks, culture and conversation — to the city.

Convivio Café is a coalescence of contributions from loved ones in Denver and abroad, from the plants lining the window sills — planted by the owners’ friends — to the coffee beans roasted in Guatemala, which were sourced by tapping connections made from Lacy’s travels and Lemus’ roots. The art on the walls comes from creators of diverse backgrounds.

Enter Convivio, and you can order café chocolatado, fresh-baked champurradas and tostadas con aguacate, among other Guatemalan eats and beverages.

If the Spanish language menu stumps you, that’s nothing a friendly chat with the bilingual baristas can’t fix. (Tostadas con aguacate is a variation of avocado toast.)

Whether customers seek espresso or aguas frescas, Lemus and Lacy strive to ensure all feel welcome. For some, though, it’s about more than that, as the café becomes an oasis for the Latino community seeking a piece of home.

Denverite Edgar Mora, who hails from Guatemala, heard about Convivio Café from a friend of a friend.

“My wife and I miss home at times, and one of the things we miss the most is just sitting and having coffee and champurradas — the sweet cookies you eat with coffee,” Mora said. “That was like a family experience when we were growing up. Being able to do that here, and knowing that other people are sharing the same experience — it’s great to have a place for that as opposed to just us at home doing that by ourselves.”

Mora and his wife ordered pastries, fruit and honey, a trio of tostadas and multiple rounds of coffee.

“The quality of the food served is excellent,” Mora said. “We love it.”

Lemus and Lacy are passionate about the ethos and authenticity of their food and drinks.

When Lacy worked with Guatemalan farmers, she realized how convoluted the coffee supply chain was and how many farmers growing the beans never got to taste their own award-winning products. They also didn’t make much money once the products were shipped away to be roasted and consumed elsewhere.

Convivio Café works with companies that roast their Guatemalan coffee beans in-country to better support the local farms, cutting out a slew of supply-chain middlemen, Lacy said.

Though their coffee is unique to Denver, Lacy and Lemus make clear there is no snobbery involved.

“We want to be really accessible to everyone in the coffee-drinking community, so if you want cream and sugar, that’s cool,” Lacy said. “And if you’re focused on really high quality, award-winning coffee, we have that, too.”

Lemus and Lacy met in 2015 at the Denver nonprofit Re:Vision, which helps families in the Westwood neighborhood combat food insecurity through community gardens, among other initiatives.

Lemus, who taught a Re:Vision cooking class, said her earliest memories revolved around playing “restaurant” with her twin sister in Guatemala, making food and menus and serving as hostess. Now, her childhood games have turned into her reality as she cooks the café’s treats and brings recipes from her culture to the Berkeley neighborhood.

The menu — which the owners hope to expand — is written out in Spanish.

Lemus said English-speakers have grown accustomed to all sorts of ethnic words simply from ordering food at restaurants. Croissants and Margherita pizza are now second nature for many, she said, so treats like champurradas and alfajores — dulce de leche cookies — can be, too.

“As an immigrant in the U.S., you come into English-dominated spaces always,” Lemus said. “But when you have a space where you don’t have to think twice and ask all these questions, there’s a level of comfort that is subtle, but it matters.”

The cafe plans to host evenings for people learning Spanish to gather and speak together, no matter the proficiency level. The space is also a popular spot for local Latino organizations to host events, meet clients and congregate together, Lemus said.

Karen Nuñez Sifuentes, program and engagement coordinator at immigration-focused nonprofit Convivir Colorado, heard about Convivio Café on social media and was immediately drawn to the women- and immigrant-owned business.

After visiting a few times and chatting with the owners, Nuñez Sifuentes said she decided to further support the business by asking the owners to cater two of Convivir Colorado’s events with coffee and snacks.

“It’s just really inspiring to see these two women make this happen,” Nuñez Sifuentes said. “It’s amazing to see it’s a space for Latinos to shine and to be supported.”

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