Alejandra Flores brings Honduran coffee to Dayton ‘una taza’ at a time

Haley Parnell
Haley Parnell
Haley is a reporter for LINK nky. Email her at [email protected]

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When Alejandra Flores was 7 years old, her parents sent her to Miami every two years from her home city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, so that she could visit family and “practice her English.”

At the time, her 7-year-old self didn’t know that investment into her education to become bilingual would open the door for her to come to the Greater Cincinnati area, where she would eventually own her own small business, Unataza.

The interior of Unataza. Photo by Haley Parnell | LINK nky

Growing up in Honduras, Flores recalls her and her younger brother camping and walking through the rainforest, and on New Year’s Eve, her dad taking them to the beach to ring in the new year with her many cousins, aunts and uncles.

A large part of her childhood, from her time in school, in Honduras, learning English in school from kindergarten through senior year, and through her parent’s encouragement, she spent a lot of time learning a second language.

“You have not just English class, but your social studies, science, math, all your basics are all English,” Flores said.

After graduating high school, she attended a university for business administration. In 2010 she worked full-time in Honduras but said she sought out opportunities outside of her home country, which led her to a university in San Antonio, Texas.

“It just opened up a whole box for me of different cultures,” Flores said. “In Honduras, we’re not that diverse. If you see people from another country will be maybe from Mexico or Central America. But you usually grew up just with Hondurans.”

She said that upon moving to San Antonio, she was part of an international student group where she interacted with people from Turkey to Japan.

“It was like, ‘oh, this is so amazing,’ and then everyone is talking about their backgrounds, their food, and that for me was very eye-opening,” Flores said.

She was also able to encounter other religions at school. Flores said about 90% of Hondurans practice Catholicism, and she was meeting people who practiced Hinduism and Islam.

“I think that is something that I really appreciate from the U.S. giving me that opportunity,” Flores said.

Another opportunity she had while in Texas was learning different software and how businesses operated compared to Honduras. Once she graduated and started applying for jobs, she said it was difficult initially, but she eventually landed one that would bring her to the Cincinnati area.

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She said it wasn’t her master’s degree that started her career; it was because she was bilingual.

“I think I called my parents, and I said thank you for investing in my education because I never thought knowing another language will open an opportunity for me,” Flores said.

Cincinnati opened another box for her that she didn’t experience in Honduras or Texas. Seasons.

She said that in Honduras, the year-round temperature ranges from 70 to 80 degrees, with the coldest dipping into the 60s.

“It’s like, oh, the leaves change. Where do you see that? On textbooks? And I’m like, no, ‘this is real,'” Flores said.

Her first job in town was in Mason at a call center. During her free time, she would create graphs and graphics for the company, pulling from her past experiences in school.

“It (the call center) was hard for me, but then I think I needed that to practice more of my English,” Flores said.

Her talents caught the attention of her managers, and she then gained the opportunity to become a business analyst for one of her supervisors.

During this time in her life, Flores was taking yearly visits to Honduras to visit her family. She said her classmates from San Antonio and her coworkers would go with her on these trips. Each time she had at least one or two people joining her on vacation.

Flores said she even started putting trip packages together to present to friends for their yearly excursions.

This time was when Flores said she realized she could share her culture and expose her home country’s beauty the way she discovered new customs traveling and living in the U.S.

“It just fulfilled me. I was like, ‘I want to do this more often’ and just give people the opportunity. Like the way how I was exposed,” Flores said. “Just give them a different perspective. Like our landscape. Our rainforests, our people, our food.”

On one of her vacations around 2015, Flores started noticing a shift in Honduran coffee. She saw on the news that they won the “Taza Excelencia” or the “Cup of Excellence,” a premier specialty coffee competition.

She said it was hard for her to ship coffee from Honduras to Cincinnati cheaply, “that’s how everything started, kind of like blending my trips to be more coffee origin,” Flores said.

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That was the start of opening Unataza, which translates to “one cup.” Flores has been operating the coffee shop at 603 6th Ave. in Dayton since 2019.

Flores began her search for a location to house her company around 2016-2017, eventually quitting her job as a business analyst. She noticed a lot of specialty coffee shops in Downtown Cincinnati already, and living in Fort Thomas, she decided to investigate the Northern Kentucky River Cities. She attended a Dayton main street meeting and saw the city was on the up and up and wanted to get into a space before it became too expensive.

She said she had good mentors throughout the process, from her people in her home city to a coffee class she took in Texas. Flores said she learned things like organizing her shop, making pour-overs, and the science behind coffee roasting from the course.

The owner of Unataza, Alejandra Flores makeing a coffee. Photo by Haley Parnell | LINK nky
A coffee at Unataza. Photo by Haley Parnell | LINK nky

While the coffee producers back in Honduras taught her about the agricultural process and how they merge two different varieties of plants to create a high-quality specialty coffee.

Unataza opened roughly six months before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her coffee shop, which housed a few tables, quickly became too small to accommodate 50 percent capacity and six feet apart rules.

“I’m like, I don’t know what else I can separate. I can have five people here inside, then,” Flores said. “It just brought a learning curve.”

She said she quickly learned that being a business owner requires planning for the unexpected. Flores said she was creating a plan b and c for what to do with Unataza should they be forced to close.

Instead of closing, shortly after opening the doors to Unataza, Flores found herself inquiring about a new larger space. The local restaurant Purple Poulet had moved to a building in Newport during the pandemic, and their old building was in Dayton across from Flores’s coffee shop. She said she decided to jump on that vacancy.

Flores moved her business into the new space in May 2021.

Meanwhile, she has continued her trips to Honduras, making sure to stay in hostels or hotel boutiques, so they support local businesses.

“It’s more like a retreat,” Flores said. “People just going out of their way, something uncommon, first trusting us that we’re taking them to a place that they’ve never been and going to the plantations, meeting the producers.”

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Hints of Flores’s home country litter the coffee shop, from the food to the décor on the walls.

Flores said Unataza’s food menu was designed by a local woman who owns the Cincinnati-based company, The Jaded Fork. She attended one of the trips to Honduras with Flores and drew from that experience for her design.

Unataza’s menu. Photo by Haley Parnell | LINK nky

The food itself has refried beans as a staple in most dishes. Most plates also have avocados, eggs, salsa, and plantain chips.

Flores also experiments with latte flavors at the coffee shop and draws on classic tastes from Honduras. You can find these drinks under “specialties” on the menu.

The horchata is one example. It is a rice drink that Flores said is typically drank with meals in Honduras. The Horchata is made in-house and can be “dirty” with a shot of espresso.

Another specialty drink is their “2 Leches Latte,” a spin on the Honduran dessert Tres leches cake. Tres leches cake is made with condensed, regular, and evaporated milk. The latte is made with vanilla, condensed milk, and milk of choice.

Regarding the design of the shop, Flores said she wanted the colors of her culture, which are bright and vibrant. The local coffee-goer gets a sense of this just by driving past the building with its bright yellow and blue painted façade.

The exterior of Unataza, located at 603 6th Ave. in Dayton. Photo by Haley Parnell | LINK nky

The art that hangs on the wall represents local artists that have Latin American backgrounds.

The art in Unataza. The artists are locals with Latin American backgrounds. Photo by Haley Parnell | LINK nky
A basket made in Honduras hangs on the wall in Unataza. Photo by Haley Parnell | LINK nky

Flores said the best thing about owning and operating her shop in Dayton is that it is a part of her customers’ daily lives.

“Just be able to witness all the interaction of customers with us. Now that we have been three and a half years in business, seeing all the couples that came here on their first date. We had the opportunity to be at one of their weddings with our coffee cart,” Flores said. “We had one lady like, ‘we have an envelope here. We don’t want to know the gender of the baby. Can you make us something so we can take it home and find out?’ Being a part of all these events for our customers is like being a part of a bigger family.”

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