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Gaviñas make coffee a family affair

From the April 2018 issue.

From a coffee farm in Cuba to a state-of-the-art roasting facility in Los Angeles, the Gaviña family coffee business has evolved a lot over the past 148 years. What hasn’t changed is the family’s continued commitment to its craft.

Despite celebrating its 50th anniversary last year, for Los Angeles-based F. Gaviña & Sons, the story starts 150 years ago and nearly 8,000 kilometres away with two farmer brothers enticed by the land of opportunity.

In 1870, brothers José María and Ramón Gaviña left the Basque region of Spain for a better life in the New World, and landed in Cuba. After a stint as tobacco farmers near the coast, they settled in the centre of the island where the land and altitude were perfect for growing coffee. It was there that the first Gaviña Coffee plants flourished.

It was also there that F. Gaviña & Sons would begin its legacy as a family business. Francisco Gaviña was born to José María and would follow in his father and uncle’s footsteps, learning about growing, processing and roasting quality coffee on the family estate. His four children, too, would eventually learn about the coffee business and follow in their own father’s footsteps.

But their time in Cuba would also only be temporary. When the Communist regime came into power, the family eventually ended up in the United States, establishing roots in Los Angeles in 1963. It wasn’t long before Francisco got the itch to get back into the coffee business.

“He was very determined to make it work,” recalls Pedro Gaviña, the oldest of Francisco’s children and CEO of F. Gaviña & Sons. Francisco eventually leased a 100-square-metre building and purchased a small roaster from a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, and by 1967 he was roasting coffee again.

“Starting the business over was very difficult,” Pedro tells Global Coffee Report. “[We were faced with] challenges like limited funds, finding roasting and packing equipment, setting up the equipment to make a quality product, and finding a green coffee supplier that would sell a single bag of green coffee.”

Forever family- and community-oriented, the Gaviñas first focused on the Cuban community in Los Angeles, selling to small Cuban-owned markets. Naturally, other immigrants were drawn to both the family’s roast and their presence in the community. They developed custom blends for the Vietnamese and Middle Eastern communities in the city and sold beans to Armenian and Italian markets and restaurants.

Today, the company’s brands include Gaviña Gourmet Coffee, Café La Llave and Don Francisco’s Coffee.

“As immigrants, we can easily empathise with the hardships that come with displacement,” says Leonor Gaviña-Valls, Francisco’s youngest child and Vice-President of Marketing at F. Gaviña & Sons today. “Family and coffee are universal, and we proudly represent both, so this is our chance to step up and do our part – families helping families.”

Commitment to family

That focus on family has translated into the fourth-generation business that F. Gaviña & Sons is today. Francisco was 63 years old when he got back into coffee, and so his wife and four children played a large part in getting the business up and running again.

Responsibilities weren’t divvied up among the kids, but rather were taken on naturally and willingly. Pedro and Paco were both good with their hands, so they managed the facility, roasting and packaging. José was a people person, so his natural affinity for sales slotted him as the company’s first sales representative. Leonor helped in the office after school.

Once the four children had children of their own – 10 in total – the skills and knowledge were passed down once again. “The fourth generation has grown up in the business, learning about coffee as their parents and grandparents did and developing a passion for the business,” says Pedro. “We feel it’s important to pass our knowledge on to the next generation. It’s very rare to have family members involved in operating a fourth-generation business.”

He also acknowledges that it’s rare for family businesses to be so successful – and for so long: “It’s a pleasure and an honour to work as a family, [especially because] it’s something that most people do not have, and many family businesses do not survive.”

F. Gaviña & Sons is currently the largest minority-owned, family-owned and -operated coffee roaster in the United States, and is certified by the Southern California Minority Development Council.

Commitment to quality coffee
 

Among that fourth generation is Michael Gaviña, Pedro’s son and the company’s Purchasing Director. He’s also the National Coffee Association’s (NCA) new Chairman, which represents two firsts: the first in the Gaviña family to serve as chairman of NCA, and the youngest chairman in the NCA’s 107-year history.

“As the youngest chairman, I hope to bring a fresh perspective to the board, which will allow me to continue the great work of the leaders that came before me,” Michael tells GCR. “I believe that by strengthening the NCA we, in turn, strengthen our industry, an industry so many of us love and depend on.”

The Gavinãs have long been involved in the NCA and many other coffee industry organisations. Pedro was the first Gaviña to serve on the NCA Board of Directors, followed by José.

“Coffee is our livelihood, and the trade associations are the voice of our industry,” Michael says. “A key initiative for many associations is to strengthen the industry through solidarity and a single voice, so it’s important that we remain involved and support their sustainability and growth.”

Michael also points to the benefits of networking and learning about industry trends that come with being involved with various coffee associations.

Benefits like these are why the Gaviñas sought to create a similar organisation for the narrower specialty coffee sector in the United States back in the 1970s.

“From the beginning we wanted to make high-quality, great tasting coffee, but there was no forum for small roasters to exchange ideas, talk about coffee quality, create standards, and advocate for a better cup of coffee,” Leonor explains.

And so, the Gaviñas teamed up with other small roasters and helped launch the Specialty Coffee Association of America (today’s SCA). They are also founding partners of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance.

On a smaller scale, the Gaviñas are also committed to quality coffee through various standards and innovations in the business – what they see as blending “state-of-the-art technology and personal attention to detail to create the ideal cup of coffee.”

Organic, Fairtrade, and sustainable coffee are sourced from the world’s best growing regions, and then roasted and packed under the strictest quality standards to produce a consistent, high-quality product. The company has achieved the highest level of Safe Quality Food Institute certification, ensuring that its coffee is fully traceable from coffee lot to individual bag, and that manufacturing practices are held to the highest safety and quality standards.

The roasting facility itself, which was built and designed by the Gaviñas in 2002, also plays a large part in the quality of their coffee. Measuring more than 22,000 square metres, the state-of-the-art facility has flexible capacity for more than 27.2 million kilograms of coffee, including single-serve coffee capsules.

In preparing for their move to a larger space, and the third in the company’s 50 years in Los Angeles, Pedro visited roasting plants throughout the country, researching the latest technologies and sourcing high-efficiency, high-quality roasting, grinding, and packing equipment.

Commitment to sustainability

Leonor says their focus has always been on quality, but that focus is not to the detriment of the environment. F. Gaviña & Sons achieved zero waste to landfill in 2017.

This environmental stewardship, which focuses on minimising environmental impact in six core areas, such as energy, water, waste and climate protection, is one of its four pillars of commitment to sustainability.

“Sustainability is very dear to our heart because we started our journey as coffee farmers, so we know the importance of supporting our growing partners and living in an environment we can flourish in,” says Yu-Yue Yen, Director of Sustainability. “Our sustainability efforts focus on four core pillars: dedication to farmers, sustainable sourcing, environmental sustainability, and social stewardship, and they are integrated into every business decision we make.”

The company has been working in sustainability since 2004, sponsoring projects in the coffee growing regions of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Mexico and officially launched its Direct Impact initiative in 2015. “Direct Impact is designed to provide premium coffee with a greener footprint,” Yen says. “We are committed to grow responsibly by taking care of people, preserving natural resources, and protecting the environment.”

At the time of the program’s launch, the company started a four-year project in Guatemala to provide financial and technical assistance to 100 smallholder farmers, training them to employ sustainable farming techniques, improve production quality and capacity, increase household income, and gain access to resource infrastructure.

Later this year, a new coffee wet mill sponsored by F. Gaviña & Sons in Antioquia, Colombia, will celebrate its grand opening. “La Chaparrala wet mill will benefit more than 600 coffee farmers in the region,” Yen tells GCR. “We will purchase sustainably grown coffee processed from the mill as part of our overall commitment to ensuring small coffee growers have market access to sell their coffee.”

Commitment to community

From smallholder farmers at origin to immigrant communities in Los Angeles to coffee industry associations, F. Gaviña & Sons has always been committed to supporting its various communities – especially the communities that have supported the company along the way.

“We have the privilege of celebrating coffee every single day and we have been doing it for 50 years – a milestone that would not have been possible without the constant support of our communities, which is why we are always there to support them back,” Leonor says.

In honour of its communities, the company hosted a series of 50th-anniversary events and initiatives last year, including roastery tours, a special anniversary coffee blend, donations to local shelters, and more.

Among those events was the opening of its first brick-and-mortar coffee shop, Don Francisco’s Coffee Casa Cubana, in downtown Los Angeles. “We wanted to create a place where the consumer could experience the warmth of our family, our expertise in coffee and the flavour of our culture,” explains Leonor. “[There], our home is your home. It’s our Cuban living room where you can grab a seat with family and friends and experience the flavour of our handcrafted signature coffee drinks.”

The space is nearly double the size of the company’s first roasting facility in Los Angeles and is designed to reflect both the family’s Cuban homeland and its heritage from the Basque region of Spain. Customers can enjoy food items in addition to coffee, and all microlot coffee is roasted in-store.

“This is only possible because of the blood, sweat, tears, love, joy, laughter, passion and perseverance of all who touch our business,” Leonor says, referring to all the milestones and roadblocks the business has seen over its lengthy history. “We are grateful to the [people and organisations] who have trusted us to build this amazing company.”

Though nearly 150 years have brought many changes to the Gaviña coffee business, one thing remains the same: Family members still run the day-to-day operations with a new generation of Gaviñas poised to continue Francisco’s determination.

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