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This Latina-Owned Coffee Stand In Boyle Heights Serves Up ‘Abuelitas Love’ In A Cup Right From Her Front Yard

The atmosphere at Cafe Niña is something you won’t see anywhere else. Janet serves her coffee straight from her yard, next to the 4th Street Bridge. Arriving there feels like being welcomed at a family member's home.

6:07 PM PST on February 14, 2024

    Photo by Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

    Janet Cerda, owner of Cafe Niña in Boyle Heights, remembers her first sip of coffee from childhood.

    Unlike those of us who tried to sneak a sip from mom's cup when she wasn’t looking, desperate to know what this magic beverage tasted like, Janet didn’t have to sneak. As a child, having a cup of cafecito every morning with her abuelita Dolores “Lolita” was just tradition. 

    “When I was growing up, my grandma used to give us a lot of coffee,” she laughs, remembering those first sweet jolts of caffeine. “She used to give me the galletas Maria, along with my café calientito (warm coffee) before going to school back in kindergarten.”

    Although she was fairly young at the time, she vividly remembers how special those moments before school with her grandma were.

    “It made me feel very comfortable and very peaceful when I used to be around my grandparents, and I feel like that’s what coffee brings into my life," she tells L.A. TACO. "It’s peace, community, and family."

    Now at 32, the single mom of two is trying to bring those exact flavors and feelings of comfort straight to her community through the lattes she makes. In 2023, Janet decided to open up Cafe Niña, her coffee stand, with the encouragement of her family and friends. 

    It had long been her dream to start a coffee business, but it wasn't until last year that she decided to go for it. The coffee shop is an ode to her grandmother, and the colorful rag doll that makes up her logo represents where her family is from in Guanajuato, Mexico. 

    The name also pays tribute to her grandmother.

    “At the end, she had Alzheimer's, so we would call her la niña (the little girl), and she was, she was our niña,” she says.

    Photo by Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

    Another ode to her abuela is the “Lolita” latte, which is galletas Maria-flavored, a spin on the coffee she grew up with. Other nostalgic flavors she offers include the classic Mazapan latte, based on a popular peanut candy in Mexican households.

    There is also her Payaso paleta latte, cajeta, Nutella, and traditional café con leche. All the drinks are made with local coffee with your pick of regular, oat, and almond milk. Other drinks include matcha and chai tea. 

    The coffee she uses is Golden State coffee from Placentia, CA her favorite blend is the "Balboa". The blend has hints of vanilla cream, fresh berries, and Milk Chocolate. According to her, the blend gives her coffees a smooth texture and flavor. To create her signature drinks like her mazapan or Lolita lattes she blends the cookies and candy with the milk of your choice before transforming it into a nice froth poured over your coffee.

    And yes, the Paleta Payaso latte does come with the actual paleta. Its base is a marshmallow with a mocha top that is topped with the signature Mexican candy.

    She also prides herself on supporting local businesses, so she collaborates with a local neighborhood baker who brings fresh pastries to her every morning.

    For Janet, the business was always meant to be more than just a place to get a good cup of coffee; more importantly, it was designed to build community. At her first anniversary this past Sunday, she thanked each customer who walked in for their support over her first year. 

    Customers like Luis Almejo, a neighborhood resident who visited Janet on Sunday, congratulating her on her success. As locals, they are proud to see one of their own succeeding at something they love doing. Almejo, who frequents Cafe Niña, said he found out about the coffee stand through a friend. Both are coffee-lovers who enjoy trying out new places in Boyle Heights. 

    “We love to support community, and we saw this, and we’re like, it’s so cute,” he says on a recent Sunday while awaiting his coffee. “It’s so important to support people's dreams, and I love the Mazapan latte. I literally come here all the time just for that.”

    And he's not exaggerating. Later that same week, we bumped into Almejo in the morning, standing in line to order his cafecito. He loves La Niña's coffee so much that he gifted Janet with a hand-painted mirror. The gifted mirror has become her customer's favorite selfie mirror, where they pose with their cafecitos in hand. 

    The atmosphere at Cafe Niña is something you won’t see anywhere else. Cerda serves her coffee straight from her yard, next to the 4th Street Bridge. Arriving at her stand feels like being welcomed at a family member's home. You’ll first notice her menu before walking in, before an outdoor seating area where you can sip your coffee under the shade of a tree. 

    Janet says the one thing she enjoys about coffee is that it brings people in her community together.

    “I love Boyle Heights. I’m born and raised here, and I’ve always wanted to bring the community together because I feel like, together, we can grow bigger,” she says.

    She wants people to savor her coffee and feel the love and peacefulness she felt when sharing a cup with her abuelita. In talking with her customers and neighbors, it's safe to say she has accomplished this goal.

    Her neighbor, Gabriel, was also present at Sunday’s first-anniversary celebration. He found out about her stand the old-school way simply by strolling down the block.

    “I’d seen her set up coffee, and I said, 'Let me go check it out,'” he says. “And I never left after that day. This was probably months ago, and I’m here almost every other day.”

    His favorite drink is also the Mazapan latte. He said going to her stand is now routine for him. 

    “I've been to other shops in the neighborhood, and the thing about this one is that it is very community-oriented. She always supports the community and shows it in every interaction you have with her,” he says. “You’re very at home here.”

    Another customer, Duran, another neighbor of Janet, said he stops by every day for his “Spanish” coffee, a straightforward traditional cup of coffee. Duran is a local part-time tamalero who enjoys supporting local businesses, especially Latino-owned ones. 

    “Es una gran vecina que tiene el corazón de atrender al cliente” (“She is a great neighbor who has the heart to serve people”), he said proudly holding his coffee up. “If she is happy, I am happy because anything is possible. I am very proud of her because she started from the bottom, and thank God she is doing well.

    Janet, who also works her regular 9-to-5 job, opens her stand Tuesdays through Thursdays and also on the weekends. She has been feeling overwhelmed by the amount of support she has received from her community and only hopes she can continue growing her business. 

    “I'm trying my best to hopefully one day bring this to the world, so they can know that 'hey coffee does bring people together,'” she says. “I picture myself hopefully having a couple of locations.”

    Before closing out for the day, her daughter Marilyn, who often helps her mother with orders, can’t help but smile when talking about her mother's journey.

    “I’m very happy that she’s doing that, especially opening the doors for a lot of people because there’s not a lot of businesses owned by Latinas and brown people in general,” she said before sending her mom a personal message. “I’m very happy for you for doing what you love.”

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