For Hector Castillo Carvajal, coffee is more than just a morning ritual — it’s his life. It’s also a way to connect with his community. Connecting with the founder of Don Carvajal Café through friends in the coffee industry, we learned about his Dominican Republic background, how he got his start in coffee, and his plans for opening the first public roasting room in The Bronx. Find out more about his vision — and which MiiR product keeps him caffeinated in crosstown traffic.
We got a chance to (virtually) sit down with Hector to discuss his history with coffee and where the cafe is going.
Today is the final day of Don Carvajal's new cafe Kickstarter! If you feel like supporting Hector's vision, check it out here.
MiiR | Tell us about yourself! What are some of your passions, and how does that come through in the work that you do?
Hector | I see myself as the bridge between the campo, the farmhouse where I’m from, and the hustle, drive, and ambition of New York City. I want to create something bigger than what I could have understood growing up –– not just for me and my team but also for the farmers we work with. It’s about developing opportunities for everybody involved.
M | When did you first get into specialty coffee? When did you start roasting beans? Did you have any mentors or role models in the space?
H | I was in The Bronx on a break from college –– I was interning at an office and one of my coworkers brewed up a cup of single origin Colombian. It was the first time I had ever heard somebody talk about the elevation or origin of coffee beans and I was hooked. I started learning everything I could about specialty coffee, and was in the roasting room by 2019.
In the coffee space I’ve had to learn things as I go. But in business and leadership, I learned a lot from my mentor at Guttman Community College, Nestor Melendez. He helped me figure things out when I was in student government there - how to manage relationships, how to run a team, and overall how to carry myself in different environments.
M | What is the plan with the new cafe you are hoping to open up? How will this help your business?
H | The plan is to centralize all of our operations, and give us a flagship location. My favorite part is that it will be a cultural hub and a community space for aspiring entrepreneurs and people interested in the coffee industry in any capacity.
The biggest way it will help the business is that I won’t have to spend all of my time driving anymore. Our operations right now are a transportation nightmare –– bouncing back and forth between 3 boroughs and New Jersey. Once we’ve got a roaster and some storage space in-house, we can focus on growing the business instead of being stuck in traffic.
M | Tell us about your approach to making coffee more accessible to your community? How will that show up in the new cafe?
H | Part of it is about representation –– the kids in my neighborhood can see a Dominican kid from the Bronx building equity in his own neighborhood. Being able to hire people and create pathways into the industry is huge.
Part of it is education. It used to be like, a third wave coffee shop shows up, the neighborhood is getting gentrified. But good coffee is for everybody. Coffee culture is for everybody. And we’re going to make a space where the South Bronx can be comfortable, be themselves, and be at home with what we’re doing.
M | How will you make a lasting impact on the specialty coffee space?
H | We’ve done so much with so little, and I think it reflects the next thing in what’s going to happen with coffee- the “fourth wave” maybe. It’s not about certifications or awards or taking expensive corporate roasting retreats.
We skipped the industry gatekeepers and opened some doors, and there are already other companies in the city starting up with a similar formula. The next wave is going to be a lot less centralized and more diverse than in the past. More transparent, less corporate –– it’s just about being authentic.
M | How do the coffee traditions of your homeland (Dominican Republic) show up in your current work?
H | I was raised in the country, so I grew up around agriculture. You take care of it, you water it, you clear out the weeds –– the methodology is the same. So when it comes full circle and I visit our farmers, I can relate to what they’re talking about. I want to make it fairer for them because I know what it’s like to be a farmer who struggles. My family were farmers who struggled. Maintaining a lasting relationship is more important than a point or two in quality fluctuation from year to year.
M | What type of coffee did you grow up drinking?
H | In the DR they call it Cafe Criollo, it’s basically wild natural coffee that just grows on the mountain. It’s not like a specific varietal or anything, it’s just coffee. Sort of like wild grapes compared to wine grapes. You might barter for it, like, your neighbor picks some coffee and you trade him some plantains.
M | We know you are working with our founder on some top secret new coffee brewing products (shh...!). What are some of your favorite current brewing methods?
H | My ultimate favorite is the “greca,” the Italian moka pot. It reminds me of my time in the Dominican Republic, it’s a morning staple. It’s basically a 3-chamber stovetop espresso maker that brews bold, rich coffee.
M | What is your favorite MiiR coffee product? Why?
H | The Camp Cup is my favorite right now. Like I said before, I have to drive all over the city, and the Camp Cup helps me bring my coffee on the road without spilling it on myself. I also recently ruined a laptop due to spilled coffee, if I had been drinking out of my Camp Cup, it never would have happened!
H | Well, I’ll say this much: I went to sleep one night wondering how we were going to make it to the goal. I woke up the next day to a message that he was getting involved, and all of the sudden we had tripled our support in a week. MiiR was very supportive in that, too. It was a real moment to see that somebody famous who I had looked up to for a long time had found my own work organically.
M | Anything else we should know? How can folks learn more? How can they support the kickstarter?
H | Check out our instagram page to learn more –– we try to be really transparent and show the whole process of what we do. There’s a link there to donate to the Kickstarter. Today is the last day of the campaign so we’d obviously love to have your support, but please do follow along for the long term as we continue to develop.