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Areli Barrera de Grodski aims to uplift and diversify with her coffee business


An employee of Little Waves Cafe speaks with a customer on April 9, 2021.

Areli Barrera de Grodski wants to do more than just sell drinks with her Latina-led and women-forward coffee business. 

A UNC graduate and the co-owner of Cocoa Cinnamon cafe and Little Waves Coffee Roasters in Durham, Barrera de Grodski wants to help women and people of color break into the coffee industry. 

She gives her employees the tools they need to start their own businesses by teaching them the history of coffee sourcing and how to roast coffee properly.

A Cherokee, North Carolina native, Barrera de Grodski grew up surrounded by Indigenous people. When her family moved to Durham while she was attending school, she realized the value of representation in the community. 

“My first initial experience at UNC was that I experienced cultural shock being a Latina,” Barrera de Grodski said. “Growing up around lot of brown people for most of my upbringing, UNC was the first that I was surrounded by a greater and more prominent white culture. It took me a while to get situated and find my own people, but as a Spanish major, it kind of helped me in the way of finding other brown students.” 

Inspired by her time at the University and her Mexican roots, much of the menu at Cocoa Cinnamon and Little Waves Coffee draws upon her travels.

“My studies at UNC had a huge influence on our menu,” Barrera de Grodski said. “I feel like a lot of the history and literature that I learned about are deeply rooted in our menu and a lot of historical knowledge about Latin America and Indigenous people plays a role in how I look at the trading system. 

"In the position of sourcing green coffee, it is not something that I take lightly and I’m always striving to uplifting and supporting Black, Indigenous women and producers of color at origin.” 

From what began as a mobile coffee cart at the farmers market to the current three locations in Durham, plus the roastery, Barrera de Grodski co-owns the business with her husband, Leon. Together, they work to uplift people of color even from the very origin of their coffee beans. 

“Areli sources coffee from all across the world,” Ariel Studenmund, the wholesale account manager at Little Waves Coffee roasters, said. "She’s particularly interested in making sure that farmers are making a living wage from the coffee that they are producing, as well as making sure that everyone along the coffee chain is getting paid fair wages."

Barrera de Grodski also makes sure to diversify her coffee distributors. She finds it uplifting to source many women-produced coffees from marginalized coffee-producing countries. 

Not only does Barrera de Grodski aim to provide opportunities to women, but she also teaches others to break into the predominantly white and male coffee industry independently.

“It is great to see all the women working alongside Areli,” Valeria Barrera, Barrera de Grodski’s sister and bookkeeper at Little Waves, said. “They are really involved in the business and community and its been very encouraging to see the way that the women like to get into the coffee business, from the history to the small details such like the way coffee beans are grown and where they come from.”  


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