“I was like, ‘Well I don’t understand what business we could start,’” remembers Garcia’s husband, James Blevins-Garcia. “He was like, ‘Well, I’m from Colombia, and my country is coffee, and in my hometown there is the best coffee in the world.’”
After selling Garcia’s Toyota Tundra and taking out a small business loan, the couple had enough startup money to open the Colombian Coffee Exchange, a coffee shop at 1409 W. Market St. that serves natural juice, a limited menu of food like empanadas and pandebono (a type of Colombian bread), and Colombian coffee from Garcia’s hometown of Yolombo.
Blevins-Garcia said it’s the only Colombian coffee shop in the Tri-Cities area.
“We opened this business just on a dream and limited amount of money, and we’ve done good just to get it open,” Blevins-Garcia said.
The shop is one of two new coffee places coming online in Johnson City.
The other is Bebettes, a coffee shop with an Asheville location that serves beignets and New Orleans-style coffee and lattes. The business, which will be at 811 W. Walnut St., announced its impending Johnson City opening in a Facebook post on Monday, and said it would announce its opening date soon.
The Columbian Coffee Exchange has been open for several days now. The storefront used to be a cell phone repair shop.
Garcia and Garcia-Blevins live in Gate City, Virginia, but they determined their business would have the greatest chance of success in a metropolitan area — near large hubs like a hospital or university. Johnson City ultimately ended up being more desirable than Kingsport or Bristol.
“Johnson City is where it’s at, as far as the good restaurants are here, the good shopping is here, the university is here, the big hospital’s here,” Blevins-Garcia said. “Johnson City is ‘the city’ of the Tri-Cities. Everything happens here.”
The couple did consider downtown Johnson City, but Garcia-Blevins said they didn’t want to operate in direct competition with the coffee shops already situated in the downtown area — like Dos Gatos Coffee Bar and the Willow Tree Coffeehouse and Music Room.
The couple also looked for a spot in downtown Kingsport, which would have been an easier commute, but Garcia-Blevins noted downtown Kingsport already has a few cafes. He indicated the city also doesn’t have a customer base he believes would gravitate to a business like the Colombian Coffee Exchange.
“There’s so many retirees in Kingsport,” he said. “I don’t think our market is going to be retirees. Our market is going to be people from Central and South America, college students, nurses and doctors going to the hospital. That’s going to be the crux of this business.”
Garcia has lived in the U.S. for about a year and a half, and he and Blevins-Garcia got married last May on a K-1 visa.
In Columbia, everybody wants to be their own boss, Garcia said through a translator on Wednesday. His dream of living in America began when he was young after watching Disney shows on TV.
He met James, and they fell in love, which encouraged Garcia to move to the United States. Before that, he wanted to experience the country as a tourist. He hopes his new business will help Americans learn more about Colombian culture.
If they have a successful first year, Blevins-Garcia said the couple hopes to open a full-service Colombian restaurant called the Colombian Food Exchange.