Just off the highway in the West Valley, cars pass through downtown Avondale. Historic buildings line the street, begging to be reused, but many remain empty.
One old white and yellow house is different. The Coldwater Coffeehouse & Bakery buzzes with activity.
On any given day, the co-op team starts early. Baker David Martinez prepares bread. Barista Angels Durazo makes coffee. Head cook Anthony Aragon assembles sandwiches and salads. Kalila Martinez de Aragon crafts pastries. And out back, farmer Jonathan Flores tends the vegetables growing in his garden.
“Most of our recipes start in a seed catalog, not in a recipe or a cookbook,” Aragon chef and ringleader said. “I look at seed catalogs and see oh, this is the chard that’s favored by chefs. So then I’ll ask Johnny, hey can you grow that?”
Finding beneficial ways to help each other is something of a mission statement for Coldwater Coffee. Insects help grow the garden. The garden fuels the kitchen. And the community benefits from the space. As the business grows, so will the town of Avondale, at least that’s the hope.
It began with reviving a historic building
The Coldwater opened in 2021, but it has been a work in progress since 2017. The team is experimenting with a cooperative business model — four out of the five are owners and Durazo is a member-in-training — and a supply chain where ingredients are grown in the garden, cooked in the kitchen and sold in the cafe. But it all began with a hometown mission.
Aragon’s family has lived in Avondale for six generations, and they own property throughout the downtown district. His sister, Robin Velasquez, co-owns Laura’s Burgers and More, an award-winning burger joint just down the street.
After living in California and studying painting in Italy, Aragon felt a draw that brought him back to his hometown, and back to a building that has been in his family for a long time.
“In fact, I went to daycare in this building,” he said. “Then one of my aunts used to live here.”
Later, during his teenage years, Aragon worked with a community youth organization that set up shop in the house.
“They helped me kind of find my way, and they operated out of this building,” he said.
Over the years, many have passed through. But it wasn’t maintained and the white paint started to peel. When Aragon settled on the idea of opening a cafe there, he knew the building would need some serious work.
“We decided to do a whole renovation. So, basically, everything that you can do to a house, besides build it, that’s what we did,” he said.
Friend and baker Martinez said they “tore it down to the studs and put new life into it.”
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Aragon met Martinez at a party for a mutual friend. Martinez had baked brownies. The duo went on to volunteer together in the community and at one point, became roommates. Aragon eventually convinced Martinez to turn his hobby into a profession and join him in The Coldwater project.
Over time, happenstance and friendships brought together the rest of the ownership team.
Many of the owners are from Avondale and care about revitalizing the community where they grew up. None of them were trained in their current vocations, but a passion for bettering the community and succeeding in business drove them to learn.
Previously, Martinez worked at State Farm. Durazo worked at a call center. Flores was a student who did a little welding on the side. Martinez de Aragon was a teacher and Aragon was an artist and painter.
“None of us were really experienced to do the things that we had to do,” Aragon said. “So, Johnny is not a farmer. Now he is, but back then he was not. I’m cooking, but I never worked in the kitchen. I can make food taste good. But that’s not the same as running the kitchen. So, we just relied heavily on just being like, what training do we need? Where should we get it? “
When figuring out how to farm, bake or run a business, the co-owners learned through asking friends and relatives, reading and watching YouTube videos.
Aragon admits that starting an unconventional business, equally owned by four people, with open bookkeeping and workers with no official training was a big risk.
“And I mean, it was very crunchy. It was a very rocky road,” Aragon said. “We ran out of money several times.”
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Eventually, when the dollars ran out for the final time, there was nothing left to do but open the doors. The kitchen wasn’t up and running, the espresso machine had yet to be plugged in. But selling baked goods and fresh produce held them through.
Now, when new customers visit, barista Durazo sees their reactions firsthand.
“Customers are coming in and seeing that we have groceries and everything is homegrown and local,” she said. “They’re feeling like they finally have something like that here and that their town really needed something like this.”
The Coldwater also has potential as an educational space, and the owners recently hosted workshops on gardening and nutrition. Flores also encourages volunteers on the farm to help people learn about the food chain. It’s a slow-going, word-of-mouth operation, but over time the community is embracing the cafe.
“Out here, it’s just like Wal-Mart and Food City where we don’t really know where the food is coming from. A lot of people are in awe when they see this because it’s not until they look out the window and see that there’s a whole farm out there, “Durazo said.
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In 2017, while Flores was studying sociology at ASU, he joined the Coldwater team and broke ground on the garden.
“When we first got this, it was like a parking lot. And so we had to rent out this giant tractor and till up the ground a bit,” Flores said. “It’s changed a lot.”
What intrigued Flores about The Coldwater project was the sociological aspect of running a cooperatively owned business designed to benefit the community, he said. Yet what really captured his passion was one of the most critical elements to the business — the regenerative farm.
Flores “geeks out” about improving the soil, he said, and scraps from the kitchen help him do just that.
“So after like 18, 20 days, I take the compost and I pretty much just apply it to the crops here,” he said. “I don’t use any tractors or any big machines. Really, everything I use are like hand tools.”
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By late March, many of the lettuces and herbs in the garden have bolted or gone to flower, meaning their leaves will turn bitter and become unusable. But this is by design, Flores explained.
By letting the plants bolt, he’s able to collect seeds for next year and also attract beneficial insects to the garden.
Walking through the rows of irrigated beds, Flores bends his tall frame to unclip a shade cloth covering rows of green and purple leaves.
“This is pretty much what you see in the store, what goes into our lettuce mixes and salads,” he said.
Next to the larger plants are rows of new transplants, tiny leaves just starting to grow. A volunteer helped plant them earlier that day.
He stops to carefully examine dill flowers, looking for ladybug larva.
“These ladybugs, they eat like hundreds of aphids a day. And so the more that I’m able to attract them, and since I don’t use any pesticides, this helps me,” he said. “The more insects and stuff that I have in the garden, the more it helps.”
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What’s on the menu at The Coldwater
Inside the old house, a refrigerated shelving unit displays lettuce, herbs and other greens available for sale. They accompany a host of baked goods and dry ingredients in the market section of the cafe.
Currently, Martinez bakes white sourdough, wheat loaf, rolls and sandwich bread. Martinez de Aragon makes pastries like banana bread and cornbread.
At the counter, customers can order fresh made limeade, jamaica and coffee drinks. The Coldwater also serves breakfast and lunch six days a week. The food menu includes French toast, sandwiches, salads and bollos, or stuffed breads.
“The most iconic one for us, that like really knocks home all the ideas that I was talking about are the herbs, egg and cheese,” Aragon said. “The herbs are fresh from back there, the cheese is from Crow’s Dairy.”
Martinez makes the dough, and he’s working on sourcing local eggs.
“Everything on the menu is made with this stuff,” Aragon said. “We’re trying to really be in-house, super local, with a lean on healthy.”
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Each of the owners and employees at The Coldwater were drawn to the project for different reasons. Durazo had always wanted to get into coffee. Martinez loved to bake and wanted to help the community. Flores is intrigued by the social experiment of it all and driven by his love of the garden, which he skateboards to and from every day.
Aragon comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. He’s proud of his hometown and wants it to grow.
He was inspired by Phoenix restaurant groups including LGO Hospitality and Fox Restaurant Concepts, and hopes to bring something like that to Avondale. He imagines The Coldwater as “the brain” of it all, where ideas flow.
But the initial idea for the project came from his faith.
“I’m a Baháʼʼ and in the Baháʼí faith there’s a lot of talk about cooperation, like the importance of human beings learning how to cooperate together. And in that, there’s a little bit of talk about how we could do that in business, “he said.
In the readings, he learned about profit sharing, which became the model for the business plan for the co-op. His faith lead him to think long-term about the social implications a business like The Coldwater could have on his hometown.
“If we’re successful, and if we can build a cooperative business and kind of a proof of concept where we can establish supply chains where you grow something, you make something out of it and you sell it in the food industry, then we can get a foothold, “Aragon said. “And we can build something big.”
Details: 127 E. Western Avenue, Avondale. 480-589-1158, coldwater.coop.
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Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @tirionmorrison Facebook at Tirion Rose and on Instagram at tirionrose.
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