Chandler man brings Costa Rica flavor to EV - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler man brings Costa Rica flavor to EV

December 20th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Chandler man brings Costa Rica flavor to EV

By Geri Koeppel

Coffee is a central part of the Costa Rican culture, and one East Valley family shares that heritage with every cup they serve.

Pura Vida Grinds coffee shop on Main Street near Val Vista Drive in Mesa only serves coffee from beans imported from Costa Rican co-ops and individual farms.

The owners, Robert Lobo and his wife, Angela Vannett, and their children—Isabella, 2, and Charlie, 3—travel from their Chandler home to the Latin American country annually to try coffees. Lobo’s father, Carlos, and his wife, Cecilia, live there full-time and facilitate the contacts.

“This year we went for the month of June,” said Robert Lobo, who’s known by his surname. “It’s really cool just to sit down and drink. They’re so proud to serve you their coffee that’s in their back yard.”

They named the shop Pura Vida Grinds because “pura vida” is a popular saying in Costa Rica. Though it translates directly as “pure life,” it indicates living your life to the fullest, Lobo explained.

Pura Vida Grinds not only sells a wide range of specialty coffee drinks for about $3-6, it also uses “micro-lot coffees” for pour-overs using a handmade, imported ceramic vandola. It resembles a large teapot with a funnel on top.

The vessel keeps the coffee warm and helps open up the flavors “like the decanter for the wine,” Carlos explained. “It oxygenates the coffee so you get the notes out.”

The shop sells the hand-painted vandolas for $160 as well as a variety of beans, starting at about $16 for 12 ounces and up to $42 for a kilogram.

In addition to coffee, the Lobo family doles out healthy doses of hospitality.

Loyal customer Randy Walters of Mesa said service is an important part of what keeps him going back.

“You can get good coffee a lot of places, but you can’t get this experience,” Walters said. “The customer care, it’s just phenomenal. It’s genuine.”

“The first time you’re in here you feel like family,” he added. “They smile, they greet you, they don’t rush anybody out, they take their time.”

Numerous customers say they drive from other parts of the Valley just to visit them, Vannett commented.

“Especially in coffee, there’s so many options for people, so you have to set yourself apart with great coffee and great customer service,” she said.

The idea for Pura Vida Grinds began to brew when a coffee franchise owner in Costa Rica approached Carlos and told him he’d like to export to the United States. “I told him my son was here and he could be the contact here,” he said.

Lobo began making plans and got a trailer, but that deal fell through. He still wanted to pursue the business, however, so he called his dad and said, “Hey, could you find me the best coffee in Costa Rica?”

Carlos located a small supplier, Cafe Forestal, and they started with that.

Lobo and Vannett formed the business in 2016 and began selling coffee from a portable cart in Mesa and at events in 2017.

They got their current space on Main Street in 2018 to serve as a prep area and for storing the cart and beans.

Also in 2018, they added a coffee truck, which was easier than wheeling around the cart and a heavy generator to serve events.

The 1963 Ford Vanette was manufactured on special order for Rainbow Bread as a delivery truck. Lobo had it wrapped with scenes of Costa Rica—including the iconic sloth, which is a national symbol of Costa Rica—by Cortez Visual in Gilbert, which also did Pura Vida Grinds’ storefront, cart and a wall mural.

Just as things were moving along, everything ground to a halt.

“When the whole pandemic hit, our calendars got wiped, and we said, ‘What do we do?’” Lobo recalled. “We decided to open this up as a pop-up shop to stay alive.”

They turned the strip mall storefront into a cafe, parking the cart inside and serving drinks from it.

And then they got a big break: As other businesses were shuttering during the pandemic, they got a boost of publicity and started to grow.

Newscaster Elías Alvarado of Telenoticias, a major Spanish-language TV station, found Pura Vida Grinds on social media. He did a segment remotely from the studio in New York in June 2020 that was broadcast all over Latin America.

It was so successful, he flew out in November and did another segment that will air this month on Telenoticias.

Soon after the initial segment aired, artisanal coffee producers and others began to reach out.

“When the interview came out, the whole world was shut off,” Carlos said, “so all these people in Costa Rica, these souvenir producers, they called and said, ‘Please help us; we have no business.’”

The family already was selling Costa Rican-made flip flops, and began importing items like jewelry, Indigenous-made decorative masks and more. Now, they’re constantly adding new items, getting fresh beans, sourcing new contacts and filling special requests, Lobo added.

“That was always my idea was to share culture through coffee,” he said. “Now that we’re here, it’s about bringing the community together. It means a lot to us. Almost every customer that comes in, we know by name.”