The paint wasn’t even dry yet, but on Monday morning, Highland Park was already buzzing about Tierra Mia Coffee. The new coffeehouse, which is part of a growing California chain with 10 locations, including Santa Fe Springs, Echo Park, and as far north as Oakland, opened its doors on Monte Vista Street after an intense weekend of final preparations. The stream of curious residents was so steady that even owner Ulysses Romero had to jump behind the counter to meet the demand. There was still a large crowd present as late as 7 p.m.
The excitement is understandable. Despite being just a few blocks west of bustling North Figueroa Street, this part of Highland Park can feel removed from its more rapidly developing sections–while the much-talked-and-debated-about York Boulevard seems to get a new storefront every week, this relatively quieter strip has not experienced the same kind of action. In fact, Monte 52, a sandwich shop that opened a little over two years ago inside La Tropicana Market, was the newest food spot on the street until now.
Part of what sets Tierra Mia apart from the bulk of third-wave coffeehouses, and perhaps part of its instant attraction in this predominantly Latino neighborhood, is its distinctly Latino vibe. With a hand-painted sign and mixed soundtrack of traditional ranchera, bachata, and Spanish rock music, the new cafe fits right in with the aesthetics of the area’s existing businesses while the interior isn’t too drastically different from the popular ice cream and juice shop that previously occupied the space.
“We’ve done really well in Latino neighborhoods,” says Romero, a new Highland Park resident himself, who grew up in Norwalk and La Habra before moving to the Bay Area for college. “We’ve been well-received because of our décor, our music, environment, and, obviously, the core of everything we do, which is our Latin-inspired coffee menu and pastry offerings.”
Still, Romero contends that Tierra Mia’s appeal is “wide and broad,” citing the popularity of his Downtown and San Francisco locations, where the customer bases are not primarily Latino. Items like tres leches muffins and horchata frappes sell well in those places, too, which is encouraging to Romero as he makes plans to expand his business further. That fact could also bode well for this location as Highland Park’s demographics continue to shift–La Tropicana is already enjoying a culturally diverse clientele by offering a wide range of products, from basic household items to craft beer.
The Tierra Mia chain also attracts what Romero refers to as the “coffee geeks,” a contingent who he says appreciate its high standards—the company roasts its own beans in a Pico Rivera facility, prepares espresso with Strada machines, and features a daily list of brewed-to-order coffees, which currently includes wash-processed varieties from Ethiopian and Colombian cooperatives. From casual coffee drinkers to the most serious aficionados, from longtime neighborhood residents to newcomers, there’s something at Tierra Mia for everyone, Romero believes.
“Our price points are also accessible,” he says. “It’s not coffee that’s inexpensive and 50 cents, but at the same time, we’re also offering a level of quality from some of the best farms, and we’re paying premium prices to the farmers we work with, so we obviously have to price it accordingly.”
The cost for a brewed cup starts at $2.75 while mochas, frappes, and lattes go for about $3.25 to $5.
The baked goods, which are made and delivered to every store daily, are also top-notch. There are the aforementioned and decadent tres leches muffins along with pina queso danishes, chocolate croissants, and an excellent granola bar comprised of oats, slivered almonds, raisins, dried cranberries, and sunflower seeds. The entire bakery case was sold out before noon on Monday.
But while this opening-day success makes Romero optimistic, and he’s glad to pique the interest of so many people, he–like any experienced business owner–isn’t popping the champagne just yet.
“We’ll see what happens,” he says with a laugh.
Tierra Mia Coffee, 5528 Monte Vista St., Highland Park, 323-344-3844