Guillermo Gomez escorts Dina Ochoa-Gomez from the kitchen at the newly opened Finca Café at 862 South Broad Street and says, as they sit down at a table to talk, “My wife is also the owner and partner in this endeavor. She is the reason why we are able to do this.”
Dina smiles as Guillermo continues, “She’s my boss. We’re been married for seven years. Everything we’ve done was done as a team. I am the face of Finca Café. But in reality there is a lot more that goes on with the background. She is working here and at home, taking care of our daughters (ages 3 and 1). If it wasn’t for her this would not have happened at all. We’re a team. That’s what we do: teamwork.”
Guillermo and Dina, who took over the former Johnny’s Delicatessen, are part of a new wave of Trenton pioneers who believe in the city. “We have been lovers of the city of Trenton. We are passionate about the city of Trenton. We have our roots in the business, and all our family is here.”
While they currently have a home in Willingboro, both Guillermo and Dina feel something is happening in the city. “We wanted to be part of the renaissance of the city of Trenton, particularly in Chambersburg. Where you see a transformation in the terms of demographics, home ownership, housing, and, most importantly, the economic development,” Guillermo says.
Dina agrees, adding, “We’ve seen a tremendous rate of immigrants coming into Chambersburg.”
Included in those numbers is the couple. She says she came from Guatemala when her shoe-factory worker father brought the family to New Jersey to find more opportunities and to learn English. Guillermo came from Colombia in order to stay alive.
Guillerno was born and raised on a coffee growing farm in Caicedonia, Colombia. “I am the son and grandson of coffee growers. I lived there until I was 15. At that time we had to flee the country and seek political asylum. My father was killed two months before coming here. We could not live there. It took five years for asylum,” he says.
He says he was present when a group of guerrillas who extorted farmers and punished them if they resisted took away his father and killed him.
“The guerrillas threatened our family. We couldn’t be there anymore, even after my father was killed. (Guerrilla members) were coming to my school because I saw the people who took him.” It was September 12, 2000.
“We didn’t know, as kids, what was happening,” he says. “If you refused to give money, you become a target. Or if you spoke out against their political beliefs, you become a target. Unfortunately we became part of that history.”
Regarding coming to Trenton, he says an aunt had come to Trenton in the mid-1980s and that his mother had come to visit and spent a year in 1997, not realizing that it would eventually be the family’s new home.
“We first arrived in Miami, and my mom found no job,” he says. “We found more opportunity in Trenton. We ended up living in the living room in a one-bedroom apartment of a couple who were friends who gave us refuge. At 16 I was always working and helping.”
Dina says, “When I met him and he told me the story, I was very impressed. As a teenager he was able to overcome this challenge. And I knew he had great potential. He had a strong personality and character and knew what he wanted — to make a positive change.”
That includes the café. “It has been his dream, coming from a coffee country,” she says. “I saw his passion. I saw his dream, and I supported it.”
Both say they had other careers and were “working for an opportunity.” Both are agents for Garcia Real Estate, and Guillermo worked for 15 years in sales and as a business banking specialist for Wells Fargo and Santander banks. He says he met his future wife when he made a presentation for the Guatemalan Civic Association that was co-founded by Dina.
Guillermo also had some background in restaurant work. “My mom has always had restaurants. She sold Colombian food. In Colombia we owned the farm, and there were restaurants we worked with as kids. I had experience since I was a kid. And for a brief time here, I worked for Subway when I was in high school. That was a great learning experience in food service.”
Guillermo says they bought the café with cash. “We did a lot of brainstorming and sacrifice to get into the building. We did all we could to make the place beautiful,” he says.
But, they say, it was a very rocky start. They purchased the building back in May, after three months of being under contract. They had to drop a few times to attend to a personal matter — Dina’s sister had cancer — but they kept pushing hard until they opened.
And despite what they had hoped, the opening on December 21 was more like a dress rehearsal. “We planned to have a menu, website, Facebook, but the reality is that when we opened we didn’t know about what we know now. We didn’t know about our suppliers, distributors, everything has been a very fast learning process.”
What they had going for them was a support network. “We were so fortunate to have the help of my cousin, Julian Reyos, and his wife, Louisa Quintero. They came from Colombia, and they had a tourism agency in the coffee district,” where they would take tourists to experience the region for three or four days at a time. “They have been critical in with the development of the (restaurant’s) idea, the concept, the color scheme, the message that we put out. Julian helped me with construction.” Meanwhile, Louisa works the counter.
Referring to a team effort, Guillermo also mentions Guatalinda Restaurant owner Juan Carlos Diaz who “helped us navigate the bureaucracy. If it weren’t for him, we’d be trying to open this place.”
Thinking back over the past several months, Guillermo says, “We got to the point we couldn’t pay our contractors and our friends said, ‘Don’t worry we’re going to come and help you for free.’ We were blessed for having the kind of family and friends that we had. We also have to thank our credit cards. They have been friendly to us.”
Guillermo says another help is “working with the city of Trenton when we opened, especially with Eric Maywar. There are resources out there, and it wasn’t clear what to do. I’m partly to blame. We have received a lot of support from the inspections, and the mayor came here. That was a nice surprise to happen here.”
And there is the public. “We are having a very good response online. People find us and are coming and taking a picture and putting it online. In just a few weeks that has helped us bring a lot of business in.”
Guillermo says the response “is the result of a combination of passion, really thinking a lot about what we want to do, sacrifice, and what the market is ready for.”
It’s also an indicator of the economic power of the new immigrant population. “We see a lot of businesses, bodegas, and corporate businesses coming into the city. We have the New Jersey Real Estate Association and the Roebling Lofts. There is tremendous money coming into the city. And that is a sign of revival and opportunity. The Latino population is growing bigger and includes ownership,” says Guillermo.
And as real estate agents, they say they see people buying properties not as investments but for personal homes.
But for Guillermo and Dina, they’re investing in their shop and talking about the main product: coffee.
“Right now we’re getting coffee from a wholesaler,” says Guillermo. “One Up and One Down Coffee, one block away from us. It is a great opportunity we’re trying to work together and develop. Having been raised with coffee growers we understand — we lived through and what it takes, the sacrifices. Finca means farm.”
Thinking ahead, he says, “Between one and three months we’ll be working on coffee development. Finca will have a special roast. We’re going to develop a brand. Working with someone at the same time, we have the flexibility to doing something new.”
Then citing other coffee restaurants nearby, he says their efforts can “make the city of Trenton the coffee capital of New Jersey. We think Trenton is ready.”
Finca Café, 862 South Broad Street, Trenton. Tuesdays through Fridays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. 609-571-9211.