The Colombian opens third café, eyes further expansion

· The Pulse

The Colombian has opened a third café in Edmonton during highly uncertain times for the food service industry, but this expansion is only a hint of what founder and co-owner Santiago Lopez envisions.

"We have been gearing to do this for a couple of years now. I think we have some clear goals for the next five years, and that is to try and expand in the market," said Lopez. "Since last year, since we opened our second coffee shop, we set up our management structure in a way that we could do multiple locations and manage it in a more intentional way to set us up for growth."

The roastery launched at farmers' markets in 2017 and established its first coffee shop in Glenora in 2018. It expanded to the French Quarter in 2021 and opened in Parkallen in July.

The Parkallen café is nestled in a small strip of businesses in a quiet community, removed from the reliable foot traffic of shopping districts. Lopez's choice of location is one aspect of the company's ambition to be "a disruptor in the service industry," he said.

"We want to use coffee as a catalyst to create community, and what we have found that our success is based on finding communities that are underserved so that we can actually open up a gathering spot for the community."

Santiago Lopez and Kristin Panylyk stand beside a shelf of packaged coffee beans, near a counter full of pastries]

Santiago Lopez and Kristin Panylyk, founders of The Colombian Coffee and Roastery, have opened their third café at 6529 111 St. (The Colombian/Instagram)

Lopez said the company's success is tied to business choices made before a customer sets foot in one of the cafés.

"Company culture in the service industry tends to be quite toxic. And we just didn't want that," he said. "We want to offer that really good work environment for our employees so that then it translates into the customer service that we have."

Cross-training employees so that they can assist each other as needed in their stores is one aspect of The Colombian's plan for a healthier company culture, and the relative ease of opening the newest café shows the strategy has paid off.

"I think that the hardest one was the second location because I had to hire an operations manager and I had to delegate a lot of the things that I used to do from the day-to-day," Lopez said.

The store manager for Parkallen had already been with the company for over a year and was ready to take on that position when the time came. "She's literally stepped into that role, and it's a very easy transition."

Following this model, Lopez hopes that as the company grows, he will be increasingly free to focus on managing and growing the business. For now, he is waiting to see how the community responds to the Parkallen café before making the next move.

"We have some plans for things that we're going to do in the fall. And we're just going to see how the neighbourhood receives it and just go from there, kind of roll with the punches."