Feel like getting perky (or porky)? Your favorite chatty chums are ready to serve up everything from a chai latte at Coronado Coffee Company, to a brisket burrito at Lil’ Piggy’s Bar-B-Q. That’s right…for the last seven weeks, Luis Madrid has taken over both locations as managing partner, with Blue Bridge Hospitality.
Although the timing left much to be desired—hello, global pandemic!—Luis said that things are working out remarkably well. “It’s been the most amazing, most positive thing,” said Luis. “People have been very supportive, and business is steady. I wake up every day, and I feel blessed.”
Jason West, who has worked alongside Luis at the old Bay Books location for over twenty years, loves the new spot. “We are so busy here,” says Jason. “Way busier than the old location by the bookstore. We are still seeing a ton of regulars, including the customers who actually live on this side of town. There’s always parking here, and, the view is great!”
It’s been a bumpy year for the pair, who started working together when they were sixteen years old. (Back then, Café Madrid was Café Del Sol. Luis bought the coffee cart when he was nineteen, and changed the name to Café Madrid.)
The rest is Coronado history. The “OG Coffee Crew,” as affectionately dubbed by locals, graduated Coronado High School in 1996 and have been working together 27 years.
But when a new developer started making some changes on their block, things began to get tricky. They were initially set to move in with Bay Books to the new location at 1007 Orange Ave, but ultimately parted ways with the bookstore owner. Next came a potential new location at the Bank of America building, but that fell through as well.
“Luis was clearly devastated to lose his space,” says David Spatafore, Principal of Blue Bridge Hospitality. “We found a way for him to get involved in Coronado Coffee Company and Piggy’s with control over product and services. I have enough on my plate so this really made sense for both of us.”
Luis has a long history with Blue Bridge Hospitality, and has known David for over twenty years. “I’ve always worked for David, most recently as an accountant,” explains Luis. “He’s like the father I’ve never had. He’s always been protective of me.”
Although the falling out with Bay Books was initially upsetting to Luis, he says it was a blessing in disguise. “I’m so happy,” says Luis. “It was the best thing that could have happened. David just kind of looked at everything, and said ‘why don’t you just take over these two locations?’ So, I did.”
One thing that neither Luis nor David were planning on: the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. “We were talking about this (business deal) in February, so we weren’t even thinking about the coronavirus,” says Luis. “But when it hit in March, David said, ‘well, you might as well take it over now.’”
Luis called Jason at 8pm on Sunday night and gave him the news…they would open the next morning. “I said, ‘We start tomorrow, dude,’ and Jason goes, ‘What?’” says Luis.
And so it went.
But it hasn’t been easy. Luis says he’s been working non-stop, putting in twelve to fifteen-hour days, seven days a week. But he’s doing it with a smile. “Luis is one of the hardest-working people I know,” says David. “He’s like the damn Energizer Bunny!”
Luis is excited to bring his signature customer service to both Blue Bridge Hospitality operations. “Customer service is my main focus,” says Luis. “That’s what we try to make sure we do for Coronado. I think there’s good food and coffee anywhere, but if the service is not there, what’s the point? The service is what’s special. We think people really come back for that.”
David agrees, and knows how important it is that businesses are owner-operated. “Both Luis and Jason are like the town’s water cooler or beauty parlor when they’re working,” says David. “They are just so personable and care about people and the product. It just works!”
Since they have more space in the new coffee location, Luis and Jason are able to bring in affogato, which makes a delicious Italian coffee-based dessert. (It usually takes the form of a scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream topped or “drowned” with a shot of hot espresso.) They’re also continuing to sell the tasty acai bowls, in addition to the expected pastries and coffee cart fare.
When it comes to Piggy’s, Luis says he’s excited to dive into the BBQ business. “As owner and manager, you have the freedom to do so much and try so much, it’s fun!” says Luis. “I wake up at five o’clock in the morning, and I watch all these BBQ shows. I never thought I would be that guy, but I’m learning, and I’m like hey, we should try that one!”
Luis emphasizes he’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, as many of Piggy’s staples are already very popular. “Everyone loves the tacos and the brisket,” says Luis. “But the pork sandwiches…those are my go-to! They are just so satisfying. You eat one, and you say, wow…that felt good!”
At the request of customers, Luis will look into adding some vegetarian items to the menu. He also plans to experiment with new recipes. “I’m so excited to get into the kitchen and start smoking the brisket,” he says. “BBQ is a cult…and I’m learning so much.”
Fortunately for Luis, he has tons of experience working in restaurants. “I always thought to myself a good manager should be able to host, serve, make the food, and wash the dishes,” says Luis. “That’s what makes you a good.”
Although the first week was scary, Luis says things are working out better than he ever imagined. “During that first week I thought, ‘oh my god, what did I do?’” says Luis. “It was cold and rainy and bad. And having an accounting background, I was worried about sales. I thought ‘Oh no, this is going to suck.’”
But then, something magical happened.
“The sun came out,” says Luis with a smile. “And when it came out, it really came out. I knew then, if I can get through this, I can get through anything. I am so excited.”