Tikal Cafe Puts Neighborhood First in Bushwick
– VOL. 13
It all started with a full heart and Guatemalan pride. When Carolina Hernandez first envisioned Tikal Cafe, she dreamed of a space lush with plants and positive energy. A space that gave the people in Bushwick, Brooklyn—her adopted home after moving to the US in 2008—a way to grow. The COVID-19 pandemic gave her a push to take the first step and think locally, knowing that, with hope and a little hard work, “doing something for the neighborhood” was possible. When it finally opened in February 2021, after starting construction in the midst of lockdown, Tikal Cafe became a lifeline for neighbors who were otherwise quite literally distanced from each other. And now, Carolina isn’t stopping with one location.
Some of this interview was conducted in Spanish and has been translated by the writer.
Q: Tell me about Tikal Cafe’s unique story of opening during Covid lockdown — what was that like?
A: The story of our cafe represents us Guatemalans and our origins. This is the name of the Tikal, the origin of the Mayan people.
When Covid started, everything was closed and we all lost our jobs. I was spending all my time at home doing nothing. I was depressed, and I was watching TV for three months. I said, ‘I’m not happy with this. This isn’t me’.”
I thought, why not open something for our neighborhood? [I saw a lack of] coffee shops and good vegetarian food.
When you first open a business in the US, the bank won’t give you money because they won’t take the risk on you. So, we put all our life savings into it, all cash. Everyone said we were crazy, and it was Covid! No one knew what was happening.
One day I said, I have to do something for my neighborhood and for my life, so I’m taking a risk.
The sidewalk outside of Tikal is busy with outdoor tables and diners enjoying the kitchen’s fresh drinks and all day menu.
Q: Had you always pictured your business having a role in the local community?
A: Yes. I wanted to support my neighborhood. We didn’t have a really good coffee shop in my area, and there was no vegetarian, vegan, organic ‘really good food’ option. I always imagined having something in Bushwick that would make the neighborhood happy.
Q: What was your experience like, in connecting with Venn?
A: When I learned about Venn, I had a positive feeling. It was like when you meet someone and you feel like you’ve known them for a while. Venn came to my cafe and explained the projects with opportunities for cafes. I said, “Why not? We’re here to support each other.”
I love Brooklyn, I love Bushwick, and I love what I do.
Q: What is the role of Tikal Cafe as a Brooklyn Neighbor
A: We have really good quality coffee and food. We don’t have a big menu, but everything is homemade — even our pastries and bread. We provide WiFi and outlets so people can work. We built an outdoor space for customers in case they didn’t want to be inside. I want to make everyone happy and comfortable.
I’m not the type of person who wants a cafe so people can get coffee and leave. I want everyone to be happy and come back. Come see our beautiful plants and garden. We even have snacks and water for dogs!
Inside, baristas whip up fresh drinks, smoothies, and cocktails. Do not miss the iced lavender latte.
Q: What is the plan for your soon-to-open second cafe location?
A: Right now, the original Tikal Cafe is a coffee shop, and the plan for the second Tikal is to be a Cafe Tikal bar. The plan for this one is different, so for example, we’ll have live music at night!
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