Running a Coffee Shop in Guanajuato, Mexico

As the saying goes, if you want something done right, do it yourself. When expat and coffee lover Greg Stavroudis first moved to Guanajuato, Mexico, there wasn’t a coffee shop in town that made a proper cup of java, he says. So he opened his own café.

Café Tal “was born of the need for decent coffee in Guanajuato,” says the 53-year-old from Tucson, Arizona—a classic case of spotting a need and satisfying it. Today Café Tal, in operation for nearly eight years, is a favorite with both locals and expats.

But Greg didn’t start out planning to be a coffee mogul. In fact, he started out as a musician…playing the French horn. In the 1980s, based in New York and playing freelance with orchestras across the U.S., he decided to start auditioning for jobs abroad. A 1987 audition landed him a year’s job playing with Guanajuato’s symphony, his first exposure to this colonial city.

Greg returned to New York and to freelancing after the year in Guanajuato, but he found the lure of Mexico too much and he went back in 2001. That’s when he noticed the lack of good coffee there. At the time, he was playing with Guanajuato’s symphony orchestra, but “I was at a crossroads, career-wise,” he says. So he began to think of opening a coffee shop.

Greg found a space—an old colonial building on a busy corner in Guanajuato’s historic center—and began fitting it out in May and June of 2004. Café Tal opened in January 2005.

Café Tal isn’t fancy. The floors are ancient tiles, the décor is stripped-down, and some of the chairs wobble a bit. But Greg buys all his coffee beans direct from a coffee plantation in Coatepec, the heart of Veracruz State’s coffee region. And one room at Café Tal is devoted to his own bean-roasting and grinding equipment, which is all done on site.

“I never had a business anywhere else,” Greg admits frankly.

From the beginning, the café has been popular with both expats and locals. Expats generally come in the morning, and you see them chatting in groups around the marble-topped tables or checking their e-mail on laptops.

Guanajuato’s bureaucrats and students, on the other hand, tend to come in the evenings. A local politician even uses the café as his unofficial office, says Greg, holding meetings there. Evenings are often so busy that all the seats inside are taken and people spill out onto the pedestrian-only street with their cups.

And if you’re a real fan of Café Tal, there’s a way to get your coffee for free… A few years ago, Greg and an employee both decided to get tattoos of the café’s logo: a black silhouette of a coffee cup and a cat. Greg started a tradition that anyone who got the tattoo could have free coffee from then on.

Several people have taken him up on the offer…including one regular customer who got the tattoo on his rump. This is only a problem for one employee, says Greg. She runs from the room every time the regular bends over and drops his shorts to get his free cup of joe.

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