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Meet the Couple Behind a Tiny Latinx Coffee Pop-Up With Big Ambitions

La Ventana started as a limited pop-up. Now the husband-and-wife owners aim to keep it running

A woman and a man standing together.
Sara and Phillip Roliz co-own Sunset Roasters and, now, La Ventana in the Mission District.
Sunset Roasters | La Ventana

At the beginning of August, Phillip and Sara Roliz started cranking out coffee drinks including latte de olla, pinolillio con café, and a horchata latte with a cinnamon marshmallow. Even to fans of their coffee business, Sunset Roasters, this was a bit of a surprise. But the new drinks exist because the coffee mongers opened a pop-up in Mission District restaurant Donaji, alongside owner Isai Cuevas, who the couple met while working at farmers markets.

The pop-up is called La Ventana, or “the window,” so named for the tiny window the pop-up occupies at the restaurant. Growing up with a Nicaraguan mom and Brazilian dad, Phillip says they would tell him to go get food from “la ventana” or, if a vendor was in a red building, from “la casa roja.” “Go pick up some bread from the name itself of the description of the place,” Phillip remembers. “When Isai asked us to sell coffee out of his window, I immediately knew the name for the pop-up,” he laughs.

Now the couple is looking to the future for the business: In September La Ventana will reopen permanently in Donaji after details like staffing (a mutual friend Maxwell Baker worked most of the pop-up with the couple), hours, and permanent water and drain are sorted out. The plan was to pop up until August 20, but people loved the event so much that the owners feel it’s worth it to keep on going. “By day three we knew it was going to be huge,” Sara says. They hope to bring in fresh-made conchas from a local bakery — they’d love to work with Norte 54, and already serve churro doughnuts from Vio Pastry in Vacaville.

A man inside a window in a restaurant.
Phillip standing inside the literal ventana at Donaji.
Sunset Roasters | La Ventana
A photo of a plate of doughnuts.
Churro doughnuts from Vio Pastry in Vacaville.
Sunset Roasters | La Ventana

All of this is new to the husband-and-wife team. Their 2018-born business, roasting and selling wholesale to various shops, currently at Luke’s Local in Cole Valley, is still sailing along. In 2020 they expanded into farmers markets and raised funds for the tiny coffee mobile. At first, the idea was to pop up with the tuck in the Mission to gauge how customers might feel about “Latinx specialty coffee in the neighborhood,” Phillip says. Sara is Mexican American with roots in the Los Angeles area, and Phillip is Chinese, Portuguese, Nicaraguan, and Brazilian. Both laugh when they think of all the identities they represent but agree coffee drinks for Latinx folks by Latinx folks is what fourth wave coffee could look like in San Francisco (though there is definitely no agreement on what that means just yet). Abanico Coffee on Mission Street is a big inspiration to the co-owners who are in regular conversation with Ana Valle since she also roasts her coffee in the Sunset District. “You can get your standard cappuccino anywhere in the city,” Sara says. “There are very few places for Latino-based coffee services.”

For a micro-roaster in San Francisco, Sunset Roasters’ offerings, like an eight-ounce bag of Ethiopian Adinew for $12.50, are competitive. In September, Phillip says at La Ventana customers can expect to buy their beans, yes, plus more of the same drinks, those conchas he mentioned, and breakfast burritos from Donaji itself. The duo is also retrofitting a 1960s International Harvester Metro mailer they bought for Sunset Roasters. The United States Postal Service once drove these cars, which average about 12 miles per gallon.

No matter what, the couple is excited to keep serving drinks to people who themselves are excited about them — their own communities. “A woman came on Saturday, speaking Spanish on the phone, and ordered five pinolillios for her mom and cousins,” Phillip says. “It was like, ‘Oh, this is really cool.’”

Look for La Ventana in September once the pair reopens the pop-up at 3161 24th Street.

Two men in a kitchen together.
Phillip and Donaji owner Isai Cuevas making the magic happen.
Sunset Roasters | La Ventana
Sunset Roasters | La Ventana

August 25th, 1:50 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect Philip Roliz’s correct ethnic identity.

Luke's Local

960 Cole Street, , CA 94117 (415) 742-4207 Visit Website

Abanico Coffee Roasters

2121 Mission Street, , CA 94110 (415) 896-4678 Visit Website

DONAJI

3161 24th Street, , CA 94110 (415) 792-6066 Visit Website

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