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Q&A: Leonor Gaviña-Valls

January 26, 2010|By Zain Shauk

Leonor Gaviña-Valls has brewed her family's coffee blends for decades, but in recent years she has grown accustomed to buying them at area stores and restaurants.

The Glendale resident is co-owner of Gaviña & Sons, which produces popular retail brand Don Francisco's Gourmet Coffee, as well as private-label coffees sold at stores like McDonald's, 7-Eleven, Costco and Porto's Bakery.

The company, which traces its roots to Cuba, has rapidly expanded in recent years, upgrading its production space from 80,000 square feet to 240,000 square feet in 2002.

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Its new plant in Vernon handles about 40 million pounds of imported coffee beans a year, funneling them through a complex system of roasters and packing machines that show a dramatic evolution from the original 2,000-square-foot Gaviña operation of 1967.

Although the recession has slowed down business — the company's revenues still grew by more than 5% in 2009 — Gaviña-Valls discussed the popularity of coffee as a part of Americans' daily routines, which is something the company doesn't anticipate will change because of spending habits.

ZAIN SHAUK: How has the business changed since your family began in the United States 43 years ago?

LEONOR GAVIÑA-VALLS: We started back in 1967, my dad, my mom, my brothers. I was still in high school, and our coffee was only espresso . . . When we started saying "espresso," or saying "latte" or a "cappuccino," nobody knew what it was. So we had to educate the people. Coffee was coffee. Coffee was a commodity in a can, and that was it. So little by little people became more sophisticated in how they drank coffee. And we came out with a brand called Don Francisco. Francisco was my father, and Don was a title of respect, so Don Francisco was the title we came out with in retail to honor our dad.

Q: How has the growth in popularity of coffee shops changed your business and what you provide?

A: Well, we are providers to some of those coffeehouses, so for us it's been awesome. On the other side, our Don Francisco brand, it's a premium-brand coffee. So people want better things for themselves. It changed what people expect from coffee. Now people expect more.

Q: Do you ever find yourself out at other coffee shops, tasting and comparing brands?

A: Of course. And we do it here as well. We bring in a competitor, and we taste it against our own.

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