Café Justo’s Growth in Its First Year of Business Sparks Popularity and New Additions


Samantha Kar

Seniors Lenora Mathis and Brigid Hanley one year ago anticipating the opening of Café Justo.

Olivia Galbraith, Staff Reporter

One year from its opening, La Salle’s student-led, fair-trade coffee shop, Café Justo, has gradually grown in sales and popularity, all the while expanding their initial menu and combating competition and small amounts of backlash.

Café Justo opened in May 2018, after being funded by a Dare to Dream grant. The cafe buys their coffee beans from the organization Café Justo, which is based in Chiapas, Mexico. The organization works to support farmers with livable wages, while also addressing the problems around poverty and immigration. The coffee shop, which is located next to the cafeteria in the former student store, raises money to go towards scholarships for immersion trips, including the trip that initially inspired recent alumni to create Café Justo at La Salle, the Arizona border immersion.

After Emma Ly and Christian Reyes from the class of 2017 proposed the idea of Café Justo, seniors Lenora Mathis and Brigid Hanley took on the leading positions as the two lead baristas last year. “Café Justo helps to stop the root cause of immigration, which is poverty, and the inability to stay in your homeland… or to support your family,” Hanley said. “[It] helps to provide fair wages [to the farmers].”

The cafe, still being fairly new to the school, has successfully involved the student body in their business, though they have also faced some challenges. Many of the staff members that have helped Café Justo to succeed in its first year are no longer a part of the coffee shop, and new members have been traded in multiple times.

“We’re only a year in, so it’s not exactly the best time to have [people coming and going],” Hanley said. The people who have helped with Café Justo have varied over the last year, “so it’s been kind of challenging, but… we have a good foundation.”

The cafe was supported by the Dare to Dream grant for a while throughout the year, but now the cafe has become more self-sufficient. “We always help with the till at the end of the day, and… we make a profit every day,” Hanley said. 

Competition from other popular drink franchises, such as Dutch Bros. and Starbucks, bring a challenge for Café Justo as well. Mathis and Hanley find it is often a struggle to get students to buy from Café Justo rather than another shop on Wednesday and Friday mornings, when the cafe is open. “I want people to know that Café Justo is there, and cheaper, and [a] good cause,” Hanley said. “There’s a lot of things that make Café Justo a good option over another place.”

However, the cafe has grown their menu since their opening to broaden their options for students and staff. Mathis and Hanley discussed options for the menu like hot versus iced drinks, blended drinks, and non-coffee choices. Café Justo has expanded their menu with iced drinks, but is still in the planning stages for other additions.

The popularity within the school has increased in the past year, despite the competition. During the mornings when the cafe is open, the first customers are usually teachers. Much of the student traffic comes around 8:30 and 9, when the window closes. On average, 20 to 30 students and teachers visit the cafe on Wednesday and Friday mornings. “I think [the popularity has] definitely increased this year; last spring when we really first opened, we had some weird [political] backlash,” Mathis said.

The backlash that Café Justo faced revolved around the topic of immigration. There was commentary as to whether or not the cafe was for or against immigration, which sparked a small political argument on social media.

“[Café Justo is] not trying to make a political statement. We’re trying to just address the problem [of poverty] and help people… these farmers that work so hard [to] be able to support their families,” Mathis said.

In order to keep Café Justo growing in popularity, Mathis and Hanley, along with the adult volunteers and advisers, have hopes to grow the advertising around the cafe, and bring more people to it. “I would hope that we could get more creative with the menu as we make more profit and are able to be flexible,” Mathis said. Expanding the hours of the cafe has also been a goal, making it more available during the week for the school. “[But] that just hasn’t been a reality this year,” she said. “We haven’t really reached that point of expansion.”

Next year, lead baristas Mathis and Hanley will have graduated, leaving Café Justo in another group’s control. “It’s impossible to run this cafe by yourself,” Mathis said. New leadership is being established for next year, though has not been decided completely.

Their hope, along with expanding the menu and increasing popularity, is that Café Justo continues to grow after they have graduated. “We hope that it kind of takes off on its own… there’s so many paths this could go,” Hanley said. Potential ideas for the future of the cafe include the use of the coffee shop as a business tool, involving the student body with contests, and incorporating the cafe into Falcon for a Day visits and the school’s open house in the fall.

Hanley has also been working on a mural to promote Café Justo and personalize the cafe with the cause it stands for. The mural is of Mexico, with a coffee cup that has “Café Justo” written in the latte art of the cup. The border wall is also on the mural, relating back to the poverty many immigrants face, which is what Café Justo is supporting.

A typical day for Café Justo starts around 7:30 a.m., when one of the lead baristas arrive, and the other baristas arrive around ten minutes later. There will usually be at least three baristas working each morning. Parent volunteer Jenny McNassar, as well as staff member Pam Matteson, are often there to help.

The baristas set up the supplies needed, turn on the machines, and prepare for their opening at 8. After they close their window at 9, the baristas clean the space, the coffee machines, and dishes. “When we first started, we weren’t as fast… but now [we are] a lot more efficient,” Mathis said.

Mathis and Hanley hope that Café Justo continues to grow in the future, gathering popularity and gradually adding on new aspects for the business. “There’s lots of little things we can do,” Hanley said. “The goal… is to remind people that they’re helping.”