Julio Castillo, a 27-year-old entrepreneur from Huehuetenango, was searching for qualified employees to help make his dream of an environmentally conscious cafe a reality. Julio grew up around coffee, with his family producing some of the excellent beans that Huehuetenango is known for. His plan was to leverage his knowledge of the coffee industry to create Calma Cafe, an urban social space serving healthy food and coffee. As a small business owner he was also facing many challenges. The legal hurdles placed in front of an entrepreneur to open a business in the formal market are colossal, requiring time, patience, and money. On top of that, he needed to develop an operating model, create a winning menu, and find suitable employees.
USAID’s Creating Economic Opportunities Project uses market-driven approaches to work with more than 430 small and medium-sized businesses, like Calma Cafe, to strengthen financial and administrative management, optimize production, identify new market opportunities, and build productive capacity to compete, grow sales, and create jobs.
Julio worked with the CEO project to strengthen Calma Cafe’s operating model, collaborated with a professional chef to define the menu, and with a marketing specialist to aim the business’s digital strategies at his target audience. Founded in 2019, the business is now growing and due to its strong foundation is creating new job opportunities for young people like Sandra.
As with all business, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Calma Cafe hard, initially cutting sales by 85%, but Julio was determined to not lay off employees. Instead he leveraged the outdoor design of the cafe to appropriately distance tables, promote self-service, and provided home delivery service. Sales have recovered, and to-date the company has actually needed to hire three new employees.
USAID provided me with access to very capable people who know how to run a business. As a new entrepreneur, I didn’t have these skills. This supported me to build a good foundation and solid foundations are important for entrepreneurs. -Julio Castillo, Owner, Calma Café, Huehuetenango
Sandra is now a barista at Calma Café, earning a stable income and receiving all the benefits of a job in the formal market, including protection from exploitation, lawful wages, and predictable hours which help her spend more time with her small children. She has already opened a savings account and plans to go back to school to continue her education.
Julio is continuing to grow in the spacious treed lot outside Huehuetenango’s historic city center. He is adapting to the conditions imposed by COVID-19, and Julio is looking to expand his business by opening another location.
More than 740 people have found sustainable jobs in growing companies, with above-average salaries and benefits as a result of the project. USAID is creating economic opportunities, promoting prosperity, and increasing self-reliance in Guatemalan communities.