After graduating from Arizona State University in 2004, Stephanie Vasquez followed a fairly traditional path teaching middle-school science in the southwest Valley. That trajectory changed dramatically as the result of a summer break vacation in Costa Rica.
“I went on a coffee tour and I was really taken aback,” she says. “I could see the connection between consumers and Mother Earth, and how we have a direct impact on generational livelihoods and people all over the world, and don’t even know it. I think the teacher in me really kicked in; I decided that there needed to be some awareness.”
In 2007, Fair Trade Café opened for business at Roosevelt and Central Avenue, with a focus on sustainable practices and local sourcing that she describes as “coffee with a conscience.” Since then, the café has earned its stripes as the longest-standing coffee house in downtown Phoenix.
In addition to providing a full menu of Fair Trade-certified organic coffees and teas, in-house baked goods and gourmet sandwiches, Vasquez has always operated with community contributions in mind. She partners with local charities, formed the Empowering Latina Leaders in Arizona (E.L.L.A.) nonprofit to help create a platform for Latina-owned businesses, and showcases the work of local artists in the café’s Mujeres Mercado.
Business was strong and growing at Fair Trade Café when the pandemic hit in early 2020. Like so many small businesses in the restaurant industry, they made the best of a difficult situation, offering curbside and delivery service until August 29, at which point they reopened dining at 50 percent capacity. Even during the height of the pandemic, their community spirit shined through such efforts as participating in the Phoenix Suns’ Small Business Assist program to provide meals for those in need.
Vasquez also turned to her team at National Bank of Arizona for assistance with Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.*
“Getting help with PPP was hugely impactful for us. With [the bank], I feel like I have personal relationships; I consider them good friends. I can pick up the phone and ask any question and they’ll get me into the right programs. They’re always advocating for us.”
- Stephanie Vasquez, Fair Trade Café
Beyond the PPP loan, Vasquez has been able to lean on the bank’s business counseling services. Depending on the task, she might receive assistance from Marcos Garay, Executive Vice-President, Director of Multicultural Banking; Jenavi Kasper, Senior Vice President, Marketing Director; or Santiago Astengo, Business Banking Relationship Manager.
“As a community bank, we’re always striving to help local businesses expand and to advise them on what they need to do and avoid doing as they progress,” says Astengo. “Stephanie’s an amazing human being and she’s always super positive—you never hear even a moment of negative thoughts. When you look at her business model with Fair Trade certification, green practices, community involvement and excellent margins, she has put together something unique. I also love her cappuccino!”
As the effects from the pandemic recede, the focus for NBAZ is helping Vasquez stabilize her business.
“Growth management is key for small businesses, making sure that they grow organically with demand,” Astengo says. “We’re also looking at how we can improve the efficiencies of Stephanie’s treasury management, such as how she receives payments and uses merchant devices.”
Vasquez’s future possibilities for Fair Trade Café include scaling up the brand and potentially even franchising with the financial assistance of National Bank of Arizona.
“The pandemic had a huge impact on everyone, but we’re still here,” she says. “It’s been the perfect example of how important it is to really support your small local businesses.”
*See a banker for details. Loans subject to SBA approval. Restrictions apply.