Meet Alex, Andrea, Rosy and Rodrigo, emigres to the United States who have established successful new businesses in Downtown Long Beach. These entrepreneurs came here for different reasons but they all sing the same praises of DTLB’s diversity and the warm welcome they have received. Their creativity and can-do attitudes bring a vibrant energy to each of their distinctive businesses and to the Downtown in general.
ALEX AND ANDREA BONILLA
Ground Hideout Coffee, 356 E. 4th Street
The first coffee farm on the moon? Far-fetched, maybe, but this brother-sister team has the qualifications to make it happen. Alex and Andrea, who own and operate Ground Hideout Coffee in the Downtown’s East Village Arts District, are also entering their final year of study in Aerospace Engineering at Long Beach State University.
“I’ve surprised myself, to be honest,” said Alex, who opened Ground Hideout Coffee with his sister in September while each carried a full course load in their demanding major.
The Bonilla family emigrated to Long Beach from Honduras in December of 2004. Alex’s father, an industrial botanist, owned a coffee farm which was so successful, it became a target of Honduran organized crime. He and his wife, a chemical engineer, decided to abandon their successful careers, leave Honduras and create a better life for their three children in the USA.
For the next fifteen years, the Bonilla parents worked selflessly to provide for their kids: Mom worked her way up from an entry level position at a fast-food chain while Dad re-established himself as a baker, waking up every morning at 3 to drive to work.
Dad got into a serious car accident while commuting to work one morning, which Alex interpreted as a sign to get busy establishing his own business, removing the burden from his parents, and “setting them up to be pampered in their later years,” Alex said.
Coffee is the star at Ground Hideout: There are alternating varieties of fresh coffee each day, brewed drip-style or through a French press. The Orange Cardamon Latte is emerging as the shop’s signature drink. Ground Hideout also serves “quick bites” (the Chocolate Horn pastry gets a big thumbs-up) and fresh empanadas made by Mrs. Bonilla.
Both Bonilla parents help out at the shop. Alex’s girlfriend Chandler Frostad assists with the shop’s design touches, marketing and social media.
The shop has quickly become plugged into the East Village Arts scene: During a recent Art Walk there were Cirque du Soleil-style acrobats performing outside the shop. Inside, a wall was covered with photographic impressions of the Port of Long Beach.
The sky’s the limit for Alex and Andrea, who are designing and building a rocket which will be launched next summer (“Andrea is the structures lead; I am the propulsion lead,” Alex explained). They invite you to stop into their shop and partake of their positivity.
“If you ever feel like you need a happiness spark or boost,” said Alex, “get a cup of our great coffee. At our shop it’s all about smiles and coffee.”
A Beautiful California Florist/Josy’s Events, 455 Atlantic Avenue
The yellow and orange flower shop on Atlantic Avenue, its picture windows filled with stunning floral arrangements, directly reflects the sunny aura of its owner, Josy Johnson.
Johnson is fulfilling the dreams she has worked tenaciously to achieve ever since she emigrated to Long Beach in 2002 from Sao Paulo, Brazil. She estimates that she plans and provides flowers for 40 to 50 weddings a year, as well as quinceaneras and other celebratory functions large and small.
Johnson arrived in Long Beach in 2002 with her first husband. She spoke not a word of English. The marriage didn’t work out and soon Johnson found herself with no job and no home, living in her car with her young son. A friend came to her rescue, connecting her with a situation where she could work to pay rent at a private home in Burbank.
After gaining a foothold, Johnson returned to Long Beach. “Sao Paulo is about diversity,” she said, “so when I arrived in Long Beach it felt like home.”
Johnson enrolled in a two-year Event Planning program at California State University, Dominguez Hills. During this interval she supported herself by working first as a dishwasher, then as a teller at a Bank of America, a job she acquired mainly due to her ability to speak Portuguese, Spanish and Italian.
After founding Josy’s Events in 2005, Johnson noticed that the quality of the flowers at some of her functions was lacking. This led her to pursue her own florist ambitions: She went back to school, this time at Golden West College, for a two-year curriculum in floral design. She began saving money with the aim of buying her own flower shop.
When a friend told her the flower shop on Atlantic Avenue was up for sale, Johnson immediately met with the owner, who sensed her passion, turned down a higher offer and negotiated the terms to make it as easy as possible for Josy to buy the shop.
Johnson has been operating her dual businesses for eight years. Each business benefits the other, said Johnson: “When they come in for event planning I offer them flowers, and when they come in for flowers I offer them event planning!” she said, laughing.
Johnson is in the shop every day, assisted by her husband, Tom, who helps with the details of the two businesses while Josy and her colleagues arrange flowers, balloons, exotic gifts found by Josy during her travels, and stuffed animals (“We’re famous for those,” said Johnson).
Josy’s energy is right at home in the Downtown—but one senses that she would have been successful wherever she set up shop.
“I think that anywhere there is a good opportunity for you as soon as you decide to work for it,” she said.
BMORE Protein Pub, 707 East Ocean Boulevard, #D
“A healthier diet really does impact your life in every aspect,” said BMORE Protein Pub owner Rodrigo Inacio—and he wasn’t just talking about food. Since he opened his shop eight months ago, Inacio has been feeding his clientele a steady diet of good vibes as well as high-nutrition food and drink.
Inspiration and positivity are front and center at the BMORE Protein Pub. Inacio said he uses the food as “bait” to draw people in for cultural enrichment and mutual inspiration. Rodrigo and his wife Bianca, both Brazilian emigres (he is from Sao Paulo, she is from Minas), have created a wonderful environment for such encounters: Old-school jazz is playing, vintage electronic gizmos are on display, Bianca’s colorful paintings line the walls, and Rodrigo holds court while cooking up a meal with a natural showman’s flair.
Inacio loves to converse with his visitors and hear their stories. He even has a microphone set up behind the counter so he can capture spontaneous chats for his upcoming podcast, “Pineal Talk.”
In 1994, 17-year-old Inacio spearheaded a family move to New York City, leaving Brazil, which was in a state of economic and social upheaval. His girlfriend Bianca stayed behind, and for the next four years she and Rodrigo maintained their relationship through phone calls and letters. “I was basically working to pay the phone bill,” said Inacio. “Our longest phone call was 12 hours.”
In 1998, Bianca finally joined Rodrigo in New York. They married and moved to Miami, where they stayed for almost twenty years. But one hurricane too many convinced the couple to try their luck on the west coast. After a year in Santa Ana, they made their move to Long Beach.
“We felt this city had something special. We truly love it here,” said Inacio.
BMORE has been serving up high-protein shakes, Acai bowls and breakfast dishes in The Downtown for eight months. Inacio is a bodybuilder who has the knack for nutrition. Providing healthy food is just part of his mission for the shop, though.
“The goal here is to make this place comfortable so people can relax, unwind and have a good time,” said Inacio. “It’s like a visit to someone’s house. Rather than have you just grab and go, I’d rather have you stay for an hour and talk about life.”