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Cafe Regina: The Art of Following the Heart

“I’ve been pushed a lot, and I’ve learned a lot, and now I’m working towards something that I really care about. Something I’m really passionate about.”

Kali Solack, Owner of Café Regina

From beaches, to mountains, to rainforests, Puerto Rico offers amazingly diverse beauty in a very small space. The local art scene is incredibly vibrant, and culminates in an annual graffiti festival. Besides natural and handmade beauty, a supportive and warm community of humans abound. Being a member of such a community seems to be what it’s all about for Kali Solack.

“My whole goal was to support the economy and to support local,” says Kali about opening a coffee shop in the heart of San Juan.

Originally from the States, Kali moved to Puerto Rico just three years ago with her boyfriend Mario Juan. Mario was returning to Puerto Rico with hopes of helping the economy and starting a food truck operation. Together, Kali and Mario started up an “underground restaurant,” ran out of their basement. Most nights they cooked for a crowd of about eight people—with reservations booked months in advance. This incredible operation resulted in two successful offshoots. Mario is now a successful chef and restaurateur of Aretē Cuisine, and Kali owns and operates Café Regina in Santurce, San Juan. Lote 23 is a public park that hosts fourteen different kiosks, each offering a unique food service, Kali’s coffee kiosk being one of them.

“The biggest blessing has been my boyfriend’s family, his sisters. I wouldn’t have this shop without them,” says Kali. “I also did a Kickstarter campaign for the espresso machine, and most of the support came from local community. I was pretty amazed at the amount of support and positive feedback I had from Puerto Ricans.”

Coffee is a big part of the cultural scene in Puerto Rico. Not only are there lots of coffee shops, but coffee farms spread over the central part of the island. Yet despite the abundant supply and ceaseless demand of coffee in Puerto Rico, the ideas of third wave coffee are just now making it to the shores of the island.  Riding in that wave is Kali. Café Regina is a small space with large ambitions; not unlike Puerto Rico itself. Kali sources her beans from Metric (a Chicago company with proud Puerto Rican roots), and partners with Camille Pagán, who runs a local donut kiosk by the name of Dó de Donas.

“There are no micro-roasters here. The coffee that’s roasted is pretty dark, pretty chocolaty, and has a lot of citrus,” says Kali. Importing lighter-roasted beans with more diverse or complex profiles is part of what sets Café Regina apart from other shops.

Each kiosk opens to the outdoors, and looks out onto a scene of palm trees and shared picnic tables. The casual and open arena finds itself a center of Puerto Rican demographics. Folks from offices frequent the lot on the weekdays, families stop by on the weekends, and younger crowds roll in during the evening. With just inches of elbow room, Kali has commissioned a local artist to create a mural on the back wall in order to maximize a cohesive aesthetic in the minimal space. Eventually, she would like to establish a brick-and-mortar, and expand her coffee operations into fine dining. In the meantime, the old saying abides: Good things come in small packages.