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Back of the Yards Coffeehouse Serves Up Advocacy With Every Cup

By Isra Rahman | June 16, 2017 10:53am | Updated on June 20, 2017 6:24am
 Mayra Hernandez working at the Back of the Yards Coffeehouse.
Mayra Hernandez working at the Back of the Yards Coffeehouse.
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Facebook/Back of The Yards Coffeehouse and Roastery

BACK OF THE YARDS — Back of the Yards natives Jessie Iniguez and Mayra Hernandez hope they can improve the planet's health by composting and reusing cups in their new coffee shop. 

The duo recently opened Back of the Yards Coffee Co. at 2049 W. 47th St.

The business began as an idea for a roastery between the two longtime friends, who met through church programs and shared similar immigrant experiences.

In March 2016, Iniguez was struggling with unemployment — and Hernandez with underemployment — so in their down time, they started experimenting with coffee. Quickly they started dreaming about turning that passion into a business.

Thanks to community support and a successful Indiegogo campaign, the pair was able to raise $16,000 to start their own roastery.

Iniguez and Hernandez hope their coffeehouse will serve the community as much as the community has served them.

“Since we’re situated across from the public library and high school, we hope to bring in both community members and local youths," Hernandez said.

As a local business with a focus on sustainability, the shop sources as many of its products as possible from around the neighborhood, and the coffeehouse sells baked goods made from locally-grown ingredients. The coffee comes from the Mexican village of Chiapas.

But with high-quality coffee and sandwiches made with top-notch ingredients,  that sustainability comes at a price.

“To combat the price, we save money in other areas," Hernandez said. "Composting gives us more space."

Being green is also good for business, Hernandez said. The shop's ecological friendliness "brings in a lot of support and attention to the coffeehouse. We recommend any new startup invests in sustainability.”

Above all else, Iniguez and Hernandez hope to change the narrative of a neighborhood negatively associated with gang violence. To work toward this, they developed a social impact fund which donates $1 of every bag of coffee sold toward scholarships and funding for young people in Back of the Yards.

“The social impact fund is meant to fund youth programs, encourage peace, fund education and scholarship. Institutions gave Jessie and me a second chance when we were young and we want to do the same for the youth now,” Hernandez said.

Iniguez and Hernandez said that aside from brewing, serving and selling great offee, their shop's top priority will be to engage with the community and earn a reputation as good business owners and neighbors.

“Roasting good quality coffee is something we hope to maintain. This neighborhood has never had a coffee shop [like this], and ensuring quality coffee is essential," Hernandez said. "In the future, we hope to open a roasting facility to create jobs, but most importantly, to maintain the community approach we have right now."

Since the shop's recent grand opening, business has been booming. The packed opening event can be seen on a Facebook live video on the company page.

The shop is open 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays and until 3 p.m. weekends.

“It is important to give back to the community that gave us so much, because without them we wouldn't be where we are today,” Hernandez said.