Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cafeto gets back to coffee's roots with Kiva Zip

Located on the southwestern slope of the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco sits Cafeto, a small café that opened its doors just under a year ago. Inside, the red oak paneling and maroon walls provide a warm atmosphere for sipping lattes and reading the morning paper.

Kiva Zip borrower Victor Chicero, Cafeto’s proud owner and barista, sits with me at the long wooden countertop that looks out onto the quiet residential street. For Victor, establishing this cafe has meant more to him than a simple investment. In fact, he considers it to be one of his greatest accomplishments.

“My cafe really motivates me to keep moving forward,” he says. “And same for my friends -- I tell them that nothing is impossible, that the American dream really is for everyone.” 

Before Cafeto, Victor spent seven years working as a barista at another café where he honed his passion for coffee and his dream to become a business owner.

“I have always liked culinary arts,” he explains. “So at the cafe where I worked, they had me making the drinks. I liked it -- I was like the bartender. At the time, I didn’t even drink coffee, but it was like I had the special touch. People were like ‘Wow this is so good.’ And so for me, it became this art that comes from the heart. From there I became fascinated.”

While Victor found inspiration working at the other café, his love of coffee can be traced back to his upbringing in Veracruz, Mexico, where his uncles used to cultivate their own coffee beans.

He recalls the harvest season, when the coffee berries had turned red, and he and other family members would collect the small orbs in big burlap sacks. Later, they would be placed on the floor to dry, be de-shelled and then roasted on the stove top.

“For all this, we didn’t use machines,” explains Victor. “It was an entirely organic and traditional practice from the countryside.” 

The processes used at Cafeto are a testament to Victor’s commitment to this tradition. Shots of expresso are pulled manually -- no automated machines here -- and the coffee is ground right before it’s used to ensure freshness. Victor even buys Cafeto’s variety of beans from the local roastery where his brother works.

“In my family,” says Victor, “we’re all cafeteros.” 

To get Cafeto off the ground, Victor spent five years working with his business partner Abel Vuenas. Together, the two men began developing recipes, scoping out locations and, of course, consolidating funds. Like many new entrepreneurs, they started with personal savings and loans from close friends.

“I was looking for loans from banks,” says Victor. “But when you don’t have anything, they’re not going to lend you anything. Then they told me about Kiva.” 

Victor received a $5,000 loan through Kiva Zip, Kiva’s direct lending program -- still in its alpha phase -- that launched in the U.S. and Africa last year. Sixty-seven Kiva Zip lenders came together to fund Victor’s loan and continued to support him when Cafeto opened its doors.

“I’m excited to swing by and grab a cup of coffee -- keep up the good work!” one lender wrote on Kiva.

“At first, you can’t believe it -- it’s like ‘Wow!’” Victor exclaims. “Who else is going to lend you money like that? It’s really something unbelievable.”

With the money from his Kiva Zip loan, Victor bought equipment to boost his production, a meat slicer, an industrial fridge, and also increased his inventory.

Six months later, the Zip lenders’ investments have paid off. Cafeto has quickly become a neighborhood favorite with locals routinely stopping by on their way to work. This success has allowed Victor to create four new jobs and consider plans for a second location by next year. 

Today, he says he couldn’t be more grateful for his partnership with Kiva Zip lenders.

“I always talk about Kiva to as many people as I can,” he says. 

Victor has since gone on to endorse two other small business owners on Kiva Zip as a trustee -- an individual or organization responsible for sourcing and recommending Kiva Zip borrowers. 

“I know that there are people in this country that want to move forward, but they’re missing a helping hand," Victor says. "There are organizations like Kiva that they can really benefit from.” 

Want to support local small business owners like Victor? Sign up at and start lending today. 

Cafeto’s house specialty is the Mexican Mocha, a bittersweet alternative to the common mocha that’s made with authentic Iberros Mexican drinking chocolate.

Key info:
Open 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Sunday

111 Richland Street
Bernal Heights (between San Jose Ave & Mission St) 
San Francisco, CA 94110