Miguel Mendieta, who studied human ecology at Tennessee Tech with a concentration in nutrition, uses his training to bring his love of Central American coffee and traditional Mexican food to people across Sumner County and beyond. The Gallatin-based small business owner started Roast and Brews with his brother-in-law, Juan Matias, a few years ago. Then in February 2022, the family also started a food truck business, Don Miguelito’s Tacos and More.
“Everything we do is because we truly have a love for it,” said Mendieta. “My family is from Mexico, my wife Amalia’s family is from Guatemala, but we both come from families who love food, who grow it from the ground up, and we have a passion for sharing it with others.”
The brothers-in-law import their coffee directly from the Matias family farm that was started by Matias’s grandfather in Huehuetanango, Guatemala and from farms in other remote villages in the area. The business began by providing coffee services at local farmers’ markets and it has grown into an online business.
After noticing an absence of traditional Mexican fare at area festivals and events in the area, the family started Don Miguelito’s Tacos and More. The menu is simple and consists of traditional meats like asada and carnitas served in street tacos, burritos, flautas, taquitos and other dishes prepared the way they would be in Mendieta’s home state of Guerrero, Mexico.
“There’s so much diversity in the Hispanic culture, from music to art [to] architecture, and of course, food and beverages,” Mendieta said. “There are so many people of Hispanic descent living in the United States now, it’s important for us to share that cultural diversity with others because it helps us all establish a greater understanding of each other. That sharing is also a way to honor our heritage and remember the people who came before us.”
Although he loves food, Mendieta has a deeper love of coffee and its rich history. While coffee originated in Ethiopia, it’s been grown for centuries in South and Central America. Americans, he feels, have lost sight of that history, because coffee has become globally colonized. In fact, Mendieta thinks a lot of cultural understanding can happen over a simple cup of coffee if we sit down long enough and take the time to do it.
According to Mendieta, in the United States, we have become conditioned to use coffee as a means of simply consuming caffeine to fuel our hustle culture. The evidence is clear in the popularity of national coffee franchises with baristas who pump it out quickly, and with slogans like “America runs on Dunkin.'” But in Hispanic cultures, coffee is less of a caffeine fix and more of a drink served for socializing with others, often served with a sweet to friends or family members who stop by, much like tea in English culture.
People from those cultures take their time consuming it, because it also takes patience to grow it.
It takes three to four years from the initial planting for coffee to mature into a consumable product, and thereafter, it’s harvested only once a year. Because it often grows in remote and mountainous areas, it is usually hand-picked and donkeys or horses are used to transport the berries. From there, it must be washed, dried and processed, with the beans taken to a mill for any remaining skin from the berries to be removed.
“Coffee seems to bring joy to everyone, but it’s hard work to be a coffee farmer,” Medieta said. “The farmers are doing the hardest work, but they’re often the ones getting left out and not earning a fair profit.”
Because the farmers harvest their crops only once a year, they typically rely on middlemen to distribute their coffee to manufacturers and franchises, which gives the middlemen the greatest profit margin, and that is part of the reason why a cup of coffee is so expensive. Medieta has found another way because of his family ties.
“We’ve established direct relationships with the family farms where we source our coffee and deal directly with the importer who helps us purchase the coffee for our business,” explained Mendieta. “We cut out the middlemen…so we can give the farmers a better, fairer price.” The difference is a farmer bringing home about $2 per pound for coffee beans sold to a middleman, and $5 per pound sold to his business.
There are different varieties of coffee beans, and the flavor profile of each is determined by the nutrients in the soil of the specific location where it grows. So, each farm produces its own distinct flavor profile. That purity of flavor is another advantage Roasts and Brews provides over larger coffee manufacturers by using these distinct flavors to produce small batch roasts.
Part of what helped bring to life his family’s visions for both Roasts and Brews and Don Miguelito’s is the practical knowledge Mendieta gained from Tennessee Tech’s nutrition classes like quantity food production and food management.
“As a student, I didn’t realize just how much I would be using that information in the future,” said Mendieta, “but there’s lots of science and lots of measurement involved in both businesses… There’s lots of conversion from metric to standard measurements and roasting times and temperatures that must be considered.”
What makes him successful is his desire to continue his education. He learns something new every day, from customers and employees, as well as from webinars and history books.
“That academic knowledge is important, but the people skills are probably most important,” said Medieta. “It all comes down to the soft skills the professors tried to teach us, about communication and relating to people. I use those skills all the time, whether I’m relating to a client, customer or employee.”