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The owner of Columbia's newest coffee shop wants to lead by example

Rafael Bobea poses by the 'La Calle Ocho' sign inside of his coffeeshop by the same name on Tuesday, Sept. 26.
Tadeo Ruiz
Rafael Bobea poses by the La Calle Ocho sign inside of the new coffeeshop, on Tuesday, Sept. 26.

People often daydream about quitting their jobs to start something new of their own, but few people follow through like Rafael Bobea, the owner of Columbia’s new coffee shop La Calle Ocho Café.

KBIA’s Tadeo Ruiz joined Bobea at the café for a cup of coffee, and they talked about how Bobea came to Columbia from Miami, and the challenges he’s faced starting a new business. Here's an excerpt from their conversation.

Tadeo Ruiz: So, what made you want to step out of your comfort zone and just go for something totally new?

Rafael Bobea: It was always a dream of mine. There’s this specific coffee shop in Miami. ... So, one day we went on a vacation. [Then later] I’m working on my regular job and something pops up in my head, you know? I feel like I want to do something else, I don’t want to do this anymore. And I just called my wife and say, "Hey, I just found this place online." I’m talking about the building that we’re sitting in right now. I saw it had a lease sign, she met me here, and we saw the place.

Obviously, it doesn’t look like how it does today. It was a whole different color-scheme, you know, a whole thing. But we saw it and thought it had potential. ... A few days later we just said “yes.” And that’s how it all started, you know? Four or five months ago.

An Iced Coffee sits Monday, Oct. 9.
An iced coffee sits at a counter inside of Calle Ocho on Monday, Oct. 9.

Ruiz: Well, what about the name? You know, Calle Ocho, “The Eighth Street Café.”

Bobea: Yes, a lot of people would think that it’s from Miami. We get this question a lot: if we’re Cubans and obviously, I’m sorry to say, I’m not Cuban. I’m Dominican. But I’m Latino so that’s in the blood so I cannot deny that.

I knew Calle Ocho, because obviously we went to Miami, so we know there’s a huge festival that happens every year there as well.

But we were looking for names and I just remembered, I was like, “Hey, we are on Eighth Street. So, this is literally, Eighth Street.” I basically translated that to Spanish. We have La Calle Ocho in Miami so it was going to be something that if you knew about La Calle Ocho before, you would probably recognize it. If you see that logo, it will say “La Calle Ocho” in Spanish and instead of having a slogan I just translated it into English. La Calle Ocho means the Eighth Street Café.

Ruiz: I mean, you were saying this earlier, “I am a Latino,” but how does it feel to be such a leader in your field in Columbia as a Latino?

Bobea: I mean, it feels great, I want to keep doing it. We’re trying to do everything right because quality is the first thing. To be the first one doing this is actually a lot of responsibility. Especially being a minority, you don’t want to be that place that people don’t like. They’re not going to think about you. So it takes a little bit more effort to be that one person and then put out service. Because the food industry is hard.

Ruiz: What would you tell to other Latinos, Latinas who are wanting to start a business but are afraid to do so whether that be because, “Oh, you know, I’m going to start something new and unique that not many people that are not Latino may not understand.” But you’ve already been through this, so what would you tell them?

Bobea: You don’t need to have a degree to start your own business. That’s the beauty of this, honestly, like if I can tell you, I don’t have a degree here in the U.S., but I know a lot of things that I can implement and do that I don’t need a degree for. I mean, you don’t need a lot to open a business, you just have to have a great idea. You have to inform yourself and take action. I’ve been thinking about this for years, right? But it was never a thing that I was like — I didn’t have a target. It just happened randomly, we went on vacation, came back and I just had this realization, that moment of like, “Man, I’m going to do the same thing for the rest of my life?”

Tadeo Ruiz is a Freshman in the Missouri School of Journalism from Mexico City. He's a reporter and producer for KBIA.
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