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August 2019

How does your Latino heritage inform your approach to business?

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How does your Latino heritage inform your approach to business?

| Input Fort Wayne

July 10, 2019

How does your Latino heritage inform your approach to business? Three Latino entrepreneurs blazing their own trail in different industries answer this question.

Amparo Rojas is an entrepreneur who designs and makes hand-crafted jewelry pieces for men and women.

How does your Latino heritage inform your approach to business? Three Latino entrepreneurs blazing their own trail in different industries answer this question.

José Cruz

José Cruz is the owner of Crimson Knight Tattoo at 1804 ½ W. Main St. But before he was an entrepreneur, he worked his way up the corporate ladder. Most recently he worked for a property management company. He was promoted from leasing coordinator to a regional representative.

“I would travel from state to state overseeing projects,” he says. “It was a really good experience, and I learned a lot from it, but there was something missing.”

For Cruz, a formally trained artist and a graduate of the University of Saint Francis, that something was a creative outlet. It was an existential struggle, as he put it.

“If there’s something that you’re supposed to be doing in life, and you’re not fulfilling that, you feel like you have this empty void,” he says.

Around that time his brother, Obie, graduated from what’s now Purdue Fort Wayne. So Cruz decided to make it a family affair and partner with his brother to open up Crimson Knight, a tattoo shop and art gallery. He wants to elevate the tattoo industry as a whole while providing a space for local artists to showcase their work.

His vision came to life about a year and a half ago, when he completed the restoration of a previously distressed space. Cruz says the response from the artist community has been positive.

“We put on about six to eight art shows last year, and so far this year, we’ve done three shows as well.”

He acknowledges that this would not have been possible without the support of his family and the stability of a full-time job at a local firm. He parents taught him the value of hard work. And although he grew up poor, Cruz says rich cultural experiences left a mark on him.

“As a child, my first experience with art was actually with my parents,” he explains. “I saw all of these pictures and paintings in their Bible. At the time, I didn’t know too much about religion, but I remember thinking to myself, “Wow.”

It was those artists, whom Cruz refers to as “the masters” that later inspired him. Now he’s carrying on the favor.

“At this point, I really want to inspire and teach so that others learn from what I’ve done,” he says. “So that in the pursuit of happiness, I can make this world a better place.”

Amparo Rojas

Under the umbrella of Worn Intentions, the Mexican-born entrepreneur Amparo Rojas designs and makes hand-crafted jewelry pieces for both men and women. Her complementary services include jewelry making workshops and feminine empowerment coaching.

For Rojas, the path to entrepreneurship was accidental in a way. In the summer of 2017, she went to a yoga retreat. A friend was wearing a gemstone necklace that caught her eye. She wanted to buy it, but it was out of her budget. So Rojas did what a lot of entrepreneurs do: She found another way.

She went on YouTube to find tutorials and ended up purchasing gemstones. She was hooked and continued making pieces not only for herself, but also for retail. Fast forward to today, and she’s pursuing the business full time.

Rojas sells her pieces at markets and through an online store. But if you ask her, there’s much more to the business than making money.

“I believe heavily in the mind-body connection,” she says. “The world we create is entirely based on our emotions and our thoughts.”

Her business is rooted in this philosophy.

When customers wear her jewelry, she wants them to feel empowered and in control of their destiny. The gems and crystals are the centerpieces of each item, which is an intentional move on her part, too.

According to Rojas, for centuries people have believed that these natural elements hold special spiritual powers. That’s why she handpicks each of them to ensure their quality.

In this way, the business is an extension of her values, and she intends to maintain that artistic control even if the business scales. Speaking of art, Rojas says she feels most drawn to the works of Frido Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Both artists came from the same area of Mexico as her family. To her, they represent the beauty and diversity of Mexican heritage and art.

Sal Soto

Sal Soto started a translation company called DeSoto Translation & Marketing in 2000. Although he doesn’t speak much Spanish, Soto is Mexican-American, and his family roots run deep in southern Texas.

Currently working as a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty, he says his pursuits all go back to this first iteration as an entrepreneur.

“It all goes back to when I first started my company DeSoto, trying to find cheap office space,” he says. “And later on, I was trying to find an office or a house in the 46807 zip code because I grew up on the south side.”

He had a knack for finding real estate, and Hispanic entrepreneurs would come to him for help finding offices and negotiating deals. In the process, Soto realized there was an opportunity.

“I was like, you know, I might as well get paid, right?”

So he decided to give it a go a few years ago and pursued a real estate license. His business, DeSoto Holdings, came out of that endeavor. He invested the first several years building up the infrastructure of his business, what he calls “laying the foundation.” Today he helps consumers and business owners find property.

The serial entrepreneur says while real estate is a relatively new endeavor for him, the underlying concept is not. Ultimately, it always goes back to trying to solve people’s problems and then trying to match them up with the best solutions.

The real estate business relies heavily on trust, and trust is built on relationships, something Soto learned from a young age.

“Mexican culture is about creating relationships, and that’s where the trust comes into play,” he says. “In our culture, you establish that rapport, and then you do business. Not the other way around, like we’re used to in traditional American society. To skip that process was almost like disrespect. But I think in the last five or 10 years, we’ve shortened that process because everything is moving faster in our world. So the question is: How do you create an authentic relationship with somebody when you only have a few hours?”

Coffee With Friends marks first anniversary

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Coffee With Friends marks first anniversary

| IN|FW Newspapers

July 2, 2019

Coffee with friends is not just a social activity for conversation and enjoying rich, dark mocha. It’s also the name of a new niche coffee roasting business in New Haven. Coffee With Friends (CWF) marked its first year roasting and selling coffee in May and is hoping to expand its markets online and into more area restaurants.

Coffee With Friends founders Aaron and Michelle Cantrell began roasting and packaging their special blends of coffee a year ago for the Fort Wayne Farmer’s market and the internet. Their Aillio roaster can do a kilo of green beans in about 20 minutes.

Founded by Michigan natives Aaron and Michelle Cantrell, CWF coffee can now be purchased at Fort Wayne’s Farmers Market on Barr Street from May through September and Parkview Field from October through April. It’s also at Integrity Physical Therapy in New Haven and at NOLA 13 on Floor 13 of the Indiana Michigan Power building in Fort Wayne. In addition it can be purchased online at and on Facebook at coffeewithfriendsFW.

It all started when Aaron, who is described by Michelle as a “coffee snob,” bought some green Colombian coffee beans at Old Crown three years ago. He roasted them on a pizza pan in their oven. Some of them got burned, but he kept experimenting until he mastered it. “After a while,” Michelle said, “we had so much coffee we began giving it to friends. They liked it so much they said they would actually buy it. That’s when we decided we had a marketable product.

“We invested in a Behmor roaster,” she said, “which is about the size of a toaster oven. It could only do a half-a-pound at a time and we quickly outgrew it and had to upgrade to an Aillio Bullet roaster that can do a kilo of green beans at a time just to keep up with the demand. We now do our roasting in the commercial kitchen of a local church in order to meet the requirements of the health department. The beans, which come in 20- and 45-pound bags, are stored at the church.

What started as a hobby for Aaron, whose regular job is executive assistant to the pastor of a Fort Wayne church, has become a full-blown business. He does the roasting and she has been upgraded from coffee lover and supporter of his hobby to business partner who does the labeling, weighing, scooping and filling the 1-pound craft bags. She also makes deliveries for online sales in the Fort Wayne area free of charge.

“At our booth at the farmer’s market we offer samples of five different coffees,” Michelle said. “People tell us it’s kind of like wine tasting. Each blend has its own flavor notes ranging from chocolate and fruity to caramel and even smokey. Our labels profile the blends and the flavors customers should be able to experience. They come in both regular and decaffeinated. The unroasted beans have a sort of pleasant, grassy/earthy smell.”

Before getting to the commercial stage, Aaron did extensive research on coffee in general and specifically those from Honduras, India, Java, Indonesia, Rwanda, Guatemala, Tanzania, Peru and Costa Rica. He found a supplier in South Bend that keeps them in beans from all those countries. Honduras beans are used in a medium roast blend he calls Florida Morning and another that is a French roast called Quantum.

One that he and their 15-year-old son, Aiden, (already a coffee snob) invented is called “Goes to 11” which is a play on words from a movie about a heavy metal band. It means a step and beyond in flavor and roast level. It’s an extra-dark blend of Malabar and Guatemalan beans featuring notes of subtle spice, brown sugar and dark chocolate. The label features Aiden playing his guitar. It was just introduced June 15 at their farmers market booth.

Their goal is to get an even bigger roaster and open a storefront shop or possibly partner with a restaurant. “We’re getting close to being maxed out as to how much we can make with the present equipment,” she said.

The Cantrells view their customers as friends and strive to make the experience a relational community outreach. It’s a vehicle to build community around coffee. “One Sunday evening a month,” says Michelle, “we invite our faithful customers to come to our home on State Road 930 in New Haven to see how we roast our coffee and mix our blends. They can choose beans from one of our source countries, scoop it, roast it, bag it and take it home as a gift from Coffee With Friends.”