PILSEN — Marlene Torres dreamed of opening her own coffee shop for years.
After immigrating to Chicago from Mexico as a teenager, Torres went from a barista to manager at Starbucks and other cafes. At 28, she decided to go to college to make her dream a reality.
A decade after leaving her job to return to college, and after recovering from a life-threatening illness, Torres opened La Malinche Coffee House, 2110 S. Halsted St., in Pilsen last month.
“Finding this place was like finding a pot full of gold,” Torres said.
La Malinche Coffee House offers espressos, lattes, cappuccinos, chai tea lattes, matcha green tea latte and frozen lattes. Twelve-ounce drinks cost $3.50 and 20-ounce drinks cost $4.25.
The shop also offers several varieties of pastries and paninis, including the El Cubano ($8) with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles and mustard on French bread; El Chavo Torta ($6) with ham, American Cheese, tomato, onions, avocado and mayonnaise; and the Mariolino ($7) with mayonnaise, salami, provolone, cheese, artichoke hearts and mixed greens on a ciabatta roll.
The coffee shop has been a dream years in the making for Torres, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient.
After 13 years at Starbucks, “I quit because I realized I was training other new managers, and because they had a degree they were making $10,000 a year more and I was training them,” Torres said.
Torres enrolled at Truman College. During her first semester, she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer and had to quit to focus on her health. After a year of treatment, she returned to school and started selling food to pay for her associate’s degree.
Her cancer is now in remission, she said.
When Torres graduated, she returned to work as a barista at Starbucks and Cafe Urbano as she worked out her plan to open her own business.
Last fall, she found the perfect space space. With City Hall offices closed because of the pandemic, Torres ran into challenges getting permits, but she was ultimately able to open the shop last month.
Torres said she wouldn’t have been able to open the shop without the support of her family and friends. For years, Torres took her grandma’s advice to share her dream with anyone who would listen.
“For God to hear me, I had to share my dream with a lot of people,” she said.
Opening the shop in Pilsen holds a lot of meaning for Torres, who is part of an Aztec dance group Ocelotl Cihuacoatl that performs ancestral prayers for Dia de Muertos, Fiesta del Sol, Mole de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day.
After a year where the group was unable to perform because of coronavirus, Torres hopes her group can perform at the shop and she can teach people about her culture.
“I enjoy my culture. I want to transmit it and keep it alive,” Torres said.
She also hopes La Malinche can become a community hub. As a DACA recipient, Torres wants the coffee shop to be a place that offers opportunities to other immigrants looking for work experience.
“I want to be somebody the neighbors can rely on,” Torres said.
La Malinche Coffee House is open 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.
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