For the past four years, Azukar Coffee shop was a south Phoenix gathering space. Located on South Central Avenue, the coffee shop served drinks and light bites, from agave mesquite lattes to stuffed bolillos and conchas.
Then on Sept. 2, the owner announced Azukar had closed.
In a video posted late Thursday night to the coffee shop’s social media pages, owner Sandra Flores thanked people for the “beautiful experience.”
She cited ongoing light rail construction as the reason for the closure, but told people to “stay tuned” for what’s next.
From a cart to a community gathering space
Sandra Flores and her husband Norberto, who goes by Anthony, began Azukar Coffee as a mobile beverage business. Then, in 2016, Flores participated in Arizona State University’s inaugural Prepped program, which provides free business training to women and people of color with food trucks, catering businesses and other small-scale companies.
The following year, she and Anthony turned their drinks cart into a brick-and-mortar coffee shop at 7246 S. Central Ave. in south Phoenix, transforming a 1920s historic house into a neighborhood gathering space.
Azukar Coffee served drinks with Mexican influences, such as horchata cold brew, mango chile limonada and the Caramelo Mio latte made with cajeta, a caramelized goat milk similar to dulce de leche.
Colorful murals and paintings from local artists adorned the walls around the patio and inside the shop, and the cafe was known to organize community events.
The events included open mic night, outdoor yoga and pop-up markets featuring small businesses. Azukar also worked with the Sagrado, a south Phoenix arts organization, to curate rotating pieces by local artists, such as Vanessa Chavez and Adam Vigil. Every year for Día de los Muertos, Azukar put together a community ofrenda where people could bring in photos of their deceased loved ones.
For Azukar’s loyal customers, the loss of the coffee shop represents a loss of a community pillar.
The impact of light rail construction on small businesses
Construction on the downtown Phoenix to south Phoenix light rail extension began in October 2019, according to a Valley Metro news bulletin.
The light rail, which will extend between Jefferson Street and Baseline Road along South Central Avenue, is set to be completed in 2024, The Arizona Republic reported. The combination of COVID-19 and construction, which has reduced lanes and diverted traffic, is putting a strain on businesses that bracket Central Avenue, The Republic’s Megan Taros reported.
“With the light rail, you got displacement happening because of that. Then hit with COVID, it just piles up,” said Samuel Gomez, executive director of the Sagrado.
In August, Azukar Coffee reduced its hours because of the light rail impact, according to a sign posted at the shop. On Sept. 2, Flores announced the shop was shutting down.
Gomez said The Sagrado is working to preserve the mural painted on the coffee shop’s outside wall.
What’s next for Azukar?
“I couldn’t have stayed in business for that long without the support of my community,” Flores said.
For now, she doesn’t have definitive answers about what comes next, but people can follow Azukar Coffee on Instagram and Facebook for updates at instagram.com/azukarcoffee and facebook.com/azukarcoffee.
In a recent post she said: “We will have a lot of love to give and we look forward to a future! So stay tuned. Our family is so grateful that YOU helped our dream come true. Como Azukar no hay dos!”
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