For a long time, Ivonne Navarro wanted to be a barista.
She achieved that goal, working for several years at her hometown’s only coffee shop, Boardman Jump Start Java. But as she got older, Navarro realized she didn’t just want to work in a coffee shop, but run her own.
At 18 years old, Navarro is about to see that dream come true. She will open up Cafe Cultura this fall, where she’ll sell coffee as well as Mexican snacks and drinks, such as flavored waters and sweet breads.
“I want to reflect who I am in the coffee shop,” she said. “I take a lot of pride in being bilingual, and Mexican-American. I want to express that in the shop.”
Navarro, a 2017 graduate of Boardman’s Riverside High School, has diverged from many of her peers, quickly finishing school and jumping into the business world.
A barista since her freshman year of high school, Navarro graduated from high school early and, at the age of 17, moved to Corvallis and enrolled in Linn-Benton Community College, hoping to eventually transfer to Oregon State University. After a term, she returned to Boardman.
“Just due to things getting tight,” she said.
When she returned, Navarro worked at Jump Start Java again, but begain revisiting the idea of her own business.
“I loved my job, but I always wanted to go the extra mile,” she said. “I always wondered, ‘What if I had my own shop?”
In her spare time, Navarro looked for mobile coffee shops for sale, and in April she found one in McNary that was within her price range.
“It was old, but it came with a lot of things, like a refrigerator and machinery,” she said. “With another one it would have cost that much for just the building.”
Navarro emptied her savings and, with some help from her parents, purchased the mobile shop. She’s spent the last few months getting it ready, painting the exterior and prepping the inside, as well as coming up with a business plan and working with the Small Business Development Center to start her company. She awaits some last-minute approvals like a health inspection, but hopes to be open by October.
While Navarro had never taken any business classes in high school, she said she picked up much of her knowledge working in the coffee shop.
“It’s such a small business, we do everything,” she said. “Making drinks, ordering, inventory, balancing tills.”
She is happy to be back in her hometown, and even more so to be opening a business there.
Navarro said she loved the experience of being a barista and having a personal relationship with customers.
She was also the only bilingual barista at the shop, which led to several customers asking specifically for her.
“A lot of customers would practice their English with me,” she said. “It’s heartwarming to know people warm up to you like that.”
She also hopes the shop’s cultural theme will encourage those who may not speak English to come in, and not be afraid or embarrassed about messing up an order.
She said her family has been instrumental in helping her start the shop.
“My sister’s in seventh grade and loves art — she designed our logo. My grandpa made shelves.” Navarro said. “They’ve been such a huge help. Even though they think I’m crazy, they support my crazy.”
Sam Cornelius taught Navarro as a freshman in high school, but the two have stayed in touch, and Cornelius has advised her on her business.
He recalls Navarro was a bright student, but struggled with the structure of school.
“She wanted to get out of high school and start learning by doing,” he said. “She had a lot of initiative and big plans — she was rather independent.”
He said Navarro has found free resources for entrepreneurs on her own, and has educated herself.
He noted that Navarro has been a role model to current high school students.
“We have a low high school to college rate,” he said. “Less than one-third of our students go on to a two-year, four-year or trade school. For her to find success on another path is a great role model for (other) kids.”
Cafe Cultura is located at 101 Front St NW, Boardman.