Hidden in a den of lush shrubs and trees is Barrio Barista: the newest place to get your caffeine fix. Barrio, because it’s located in the heart of Barrio Hollywood. Barista, because they sell mostly coffee. If you’re driving down North Grande Avenue you might miss the tiny coffee-shop-on-wheels, which is located across from Mariscos Chihuahua.
Green leaves weave around the chain-link fence that wraps around the shop and provides a private shaded atmosphere. String lights hang overhead along the wooden awnings. Sunlight streams through the branches of the trees, revealing an intricate shadow of leaves along the brick floor. There are several black iron tables and chairs in the nook, along with a tan porch swing for relaxing and studying.
Sergio Torres, a 22-year-old Navy veteran, stands behind the tiny window ready to take coffee orders. Barrio Barista, a family owned outdoor café, opened in January of this year. They sell hot and iced coffee, frappes, lattes, tea, and smoothies. Torres said that the most popular drink is their homemade Barrio cold brew.
“I use ground coffee, and I put it in a bucket,” Torres said, peering behind black Wayfarer sunglasses. “Then I put ice water into the coffee, and I let it sit in itself anywhere between 12 to 24 hours. Then you strain it out and that is your cold brew.”
Customers can also visit Barrio Barista for an on-the-go breakfast. They sell breakfast burritos, bowls, sandwiches, bagels, churros and quesadillas. The most popular food item is the breakfast burrito. Torres said most places sell big burritos, which can be hard to eat on the go in the morning. “So we thought, we’ll alleviate that problem by just doing two smaller burritos that way it’s easier to handle,” he said. “What [my mom] does is, she toasts the burrito, not a lot but just enough to give it a little bit of crunch to the bite.” Torres added.
Torres learned how to be a barista from working at an espresso and coffee machine repair company called Buttons. He took private lessons from a Seattle-based barista and taught himself through YouTube videos. Now, he creates unique coffee drinks in his spare time. His most recent creation is the hochesso, a mix between horchata and an espresso.
Torres is a true Tucsonan – born and raised. He worked as a machinist mate in the Navy for about a year and eight months. The Navy stationed Torres in Japan for three deployments, after which he returned to Tucson. He runs the stand full-time with his sister and mother, Flavia Briones, who came up with the idea for Barrio Barista. Torres’ grandfather owns a contracting business located behind the coffee stand, and they had been trying to come up with a way to use the land.
“I do a lot of reading, and I’ve learned that there [are] three necessities to humans which [are] food, water and shelter,” Torres said. “So I was like if we’re going to go into business, it should be within one of those three things.”
He said they chose to sell coffee because students need caffeine. Starbucks is the only coffee shop in the area, and both locations are inside of Safeway and Albertsons grocery stores. “We wanted to just be here, a little more convenient, cheaper and people seem to like it so we just kept expanding,” Torres said.
“I’ve been here everyday since we’ve opened, so I’ve firsthand seen the foot traffic coming through,” Torres said.
Torres said they’d like to offer more food and faster service to their customers. But, it is difficult because they have to commissary out of Carneceria y Comisaria Camacho on South Sixth Avenue. (A commissary is a place where food trucks/vendors prepare and cook their food to meet health code regulations if they do not have their own kitchen.) It costs too much to build an indoor café, but Torres said they’d like to build a larger kitchen. They have a contractor currently working on the project.
There is a Barrio Barista café in San Antonio, Texas, that recently trademarked their name. Torres said he suspects the owner bought the rights after seeing their business on Facebook.
“So we’re just going to change the name,” Torres said. “We have to. It bummed us out so much, it really did, especially because we just ordered like stickers and bumper stickers, but now we can’t even use them.” Barrio Barista is more than their name. Torres said the thing that separates them from other coffee shops is their homey atmosphere.
Barrio Barista is closed on Tuesdays but open the rest of the week, Monday through Friday, for breakfast from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. On the weekend the are opened from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Their busiest time is 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. on weekdays. The Torres family added grilled beef and pork tacos to their menu last weekend, which they will be selling on Fridays from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 9:00 p.m. and Sundays from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.
1002 N. Grande Ave.
Tucson, Arizona, AZ 85745
Maritza Cruz is a journalism student at the University of Arizona. Maritza loves to take photos, read fictional novels, drink chai tea lattes, and binge watch the latest Netflix shows. Someday, she wants to write a series of fantasy books. She is interested in how cooking brings people together. To view her articles, photos, and videos on the Tucson community, visit Maritza’s blog at maritzalcruz.wordpress.com.