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VOL. 125 | NO. 202 | Monday, October 18, 2010

Cafe Las Flores Growing ‘One Coffee Bean at a Time’

ROBIN GALLAHER BRANCH | Special to The Daily News

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Photo: Lance Murphey

Lucia Heros walks down the hall of her home each morning to her office with its windows overlooking a garden. She carries a steaming cup of black coffee.

On an office shelf is a glass award with blue stars. In September the coffee business she owns with her two brothers, Cafe Las Flores, won the Memphis Latino Leadership Award, small business category, given by the Memphis chapter of the National Hispanic Professional Organization.

“I think I won because of all the volunteer work I have done,” said Heros, 40, who has lived in Memphis 18 years and is well known for fundraising and gala endeavors.

This year she is in the parents association at Hutchison School, on the board of the Children’s Museum of Memphis and is president of the board of directors of The Exchange Club Family Center.

Meanwhile, Cafe Las Flores – with its marketing headquarters here in Memphis at her home and the growing, planting, harvesting, drying, packaging and shipping operation in Nicaragua – is a $1.5 million per year enterprise.

And it’s growing.

“We’re a specialty coffee,” said Heros, whose business has expanded to two upscale coffee shops in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua, both of which are “doing very well.”

Although there is no plan right now to open a specialty coffee shop here in Memphis, Cafe Las Flores nonetheless has a growing fan club.

One devotee is Jennifer Chandler, Memphis author of two cookbooks called “Simply Salads” and “Simply Suppers.” Chandler described the Cafe Las Flores coffee as bold enough for her husband (who drinks it in the morning straight and black) and smooth enough for her (who likes it in the afternoon with cream and sugar).

Chandler recommends it for cooks who might not drink coffee.

“You can always use it in coffee ice cream and mocha truffles,” she said.

Heros and her coffee business have an interesting history. Because of political unrest, Heros and her family, the Palazios, left Nicaragua in 1977 when she was 7, settling first in Connecticut.

Heros wound up attending Tulane University in New Orleans, where she majored in communications and met her husband, Ricardo “Ricky” Heros, a Memphian whose parents are Cubans.

Ricky Heros is CEO of ACA Communities, an agency that provides home health care. The couple settled in Ricky’s hometown, and Lucia Heros became heavily involved in volunteer ways to help the Latino community.

When Lucia Heros’ father died in 1999, his two sons and daughter took over what Lucia describes as “his expensive hobby” – coffee plantations. The siblings streamlined, centralized and updated all aspects of their father’s coffee business. The family has 10,000 acres on the slopes of Mombacho, a non-active volcano near Granada, Nicaragua.

“Our coffee is a Rainforest Alliance-certified product,” Lucia said proudly. “The certification is a high honor showing our commitment to maintaining the environment.”

Heros said that the seed-to-seedling stage is a couple of years, but once a seedling is planted it can produce for about 15 years.

The family business began in 1926. Under the siblings’ management, it has expanded to include eco-adventure tours (with a zip line that swings over the coffee plants). Heros described Granada as a picturesque town with cobblestone streets and haciendas facing a central square.

Heros, who has a daughter, Alessandra, 10, emphasized that her family heritage is to “give back to the community in every way we can.”

Barbara King, executive director of The Exchange Club, praised Heros as “absolutely excellent.” For instance, last year Heros chaired the nonprofit’s gala “and we raised over $110,000,” King said.

Dick Hackett, Children’s Museum CEO and former Memphis mayor, agreed, adding Heros “brings so much community interest and involvement to the museum; her influence is substantial.”

Heros smiled at the praise but noted that she often finds in Memphis “a negative view of Latinos.” Yet she also finds that a cup of good coffee does wonders.

“If our delicious coffee can be a way to open someone’s heart and mind to the positive contributions of Latinos,” she said, “then we are happy to build that bridge, one tiny coffee bean at a time.”

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