Click to View Latest IssueClick to View Latest Issue

Dulcinea Herrera: Embracing Diversity and Culture

By  0 Comments

There’s a melting pot gently simmering at Kansas City’s Café Corazón. It brings to mind delicious drinks or mouth-watering dishes, but it’s so much more. Expand your vision to an impressive variety of Latinx cultures, language, art, music and food, pleasing the taste buds and filling the soul. That’s a huge part of the mission of Café Corazón, guided by co-owner Dulcinea Herrera, offering incredible eats and drinks while serving as an educational hub for Latinx culture from across the world.

“Every time our customers walk in, it’s important that they think, ‘Oh my gosh. I’ve never seen this before. I’m curious to learn more,’ or ‘This feels like home.’ It was one of the main reasons we opened Café Corazón. We didn’t know that at the time in 2016, but we knew that we wanted to do whatever we could to pay respect to our cultures and be welcoming to others. It was important to us to share our knowledge and experience with others.” Dulcinea, a former Miss Kansas City Latina 2021, said. “This is more than a café to us. It’s our ancestors; this is our life. This is our honor and respect to them. We’re happy that we get to do this in Kansas City and share with people who don’t have a clue about Latin culture. As well as be a safe place for those whose culture we share.”

Heart of the Matter
Café Corazón Westport, 1721 Westport Road, Kansas City, opened in 2019, followed soon after by Café Corazón Crossroads, 110 Southwest Boulevard, Kansas City. The basic offerings are the same at each, but the Crossroads location is the larger of the two and features an expanded food menu. However, each is known as the “café with heart.”

“Corazón means heart. We’re the café with heart because we put so much heart, family and passion into this place. It’s more than us; it’s a community,” she remarked. “We’re not only welcoming to the Latinx and Indigenous cultures but to everyone in Kansas City. We want to represent our culture but also pay homage to the people making our products.”

The brainchild of this endeavor belongs to Dulcinea’s mother and father, Miel Castagna-Herrera and Curtis Herrera. They came to their daughter with the concept for a café featuring food and drink from their Latinx and Indigenous cultures. Her father, who also claims Mescalero Apache heritage, provided his contractor business knowledge and building skills to transform empty spaces into the warm and welcoming spots that Café Corazón now calls home. Dulcinea and her family are proud to a part of the Kansas City Latinx and women-owned business environment by employing 30 people, most on a full-time basis.

“With family you can be more honest and open. I love it because I can trust them and we always have the best intentions for each other. I love seeing my parents and going to Café Corazón speaking about business,” she noted. “It’s beautiful for us and we’re so connected to this place because we put so much love in to it.”

And the same feelings of connection and respect come from the elder generation of Herreras for their daughter. “It has been such a joy working toward the mirroring of our cultures in Café Corazón with our daughter Dulcinea. Her creativity and work ethic know no bounds,” her mother, Miel, said. Her father, Curtis, shared, “Dulcinea’s been such a valuable partner in Corazón. She has learned how to run a business and her marketing skills and knowledge have really helped to create the success of the cafes.”

A Sight to Behold
The walls of the cafes are covered by brightly colored murals by artists Rodrigo Alvarez and Issac Tapia. Paintings by Jo Morgan and Dulcinea, who’s been painting since she was 14, line the walls. All reflect the beauty, color and the passion of Latinx culture, a feast for the eyes.

This family-owned business promises to make your coffee experience a nourishing and memorable one, satiated with sumptuous artisanal ingredients from Latin American countries but with an intense focus on using local ingredients. Dulcinea is proud to point out that only fair-trade coffee, roasted in Kansas City, is served at their establishments, along with many other
delectable delights.

“You’re going to have an experience that you’re not going to have anywhere else in KC, maybe in the entire Midwest, but you’d have to drive very far to get it,” she stated. “You’ll be able to experience a culture that perhaps you’ve not experienced before and you’ll be welcomed into it and we’ll teach you. It’s more than coffee, you’ll experience family and culture and try something delicious.”

What’s on the Menu
The menus are packed with delightful treats but a very classic South American drink is yerba mate, pronounced yer-ba máh-tay, from Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil. Yerba mate is an herbal tea made from the leaves and twigs of the Ilex paraguariensis plant. Indigenous people from South America have used it for centuries as a social and medical beverage. It’s noted to offer the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea and the pleasure of chocolate. Duclinea adds that it’s one of the healthiest teas in the world. Many athletes, especially soccer players, drink yerba mate right on the bench as the match is being played. If you’re looking to try new drinks such as yerba mate but remain a bit hesitant, Café Corazón features a flight of different beverages, perfect for sampling different cultures and discovering your new favorite Latinx beverage.

While the drinks are delightful, the menus at Café Corazón feature many “can’t miss” dishes. Dulcinea suggests trying Lupe’s Bison Ricen at the Crossroads location, a Native recipe loaned to the cafe by Lupe, who works at the Kansas City Indian Center. This popular native dish features local bison, cream, mushrooms and spices and is served on a bed of wild rice from farms in Kansas. Crispy, crunchy Argentinian empanadas are packed with beef, or fugazetta stuffed with mozzarella or a vegan option of ratatouille and served with a traditional chimichurri sauce. “It’s my mom’s chimichurri recipe and she makes the best in the world, in my opinion,” Dulcinea said. “It’s a dipping sauce, used especially in Argentina. It helps with digestion but tastes delicious.” For newcomers looking for beverages, she recommends the chocolate, hot or iced. If you like mocha, the Mocha Azteca is delicious and won best hot chocolate during a contest hosted by the Kansas City Star.

A Recipe for Success
With two locations to help operate, Dulcinea has her work cut out for her. But with the support and knowledge of her family, the future looks very bright. As they worked through their first few years as café business owners, the experiences have taught Dulcinea much about making it through the tough times.

“Always have an open mind and be innovative. For example, COVID hit us very soon after we opened. We had to rethink everything we did. The CDC didn’t have a lot of information in the beginning of what we needed to do as a restaurant. So we came up with our own alternatives. We did curbside. We made sure all employees wore masks and gloves. We had to rethink in order to keep our business alive,” shared Dulcinea. “It showed us that you can’t just be stuck with one way of doing something; you have to be innovative and have an open mind. The world changes very fast around you and you have to change with it.”

Having an open mind is not only important to innovation, but it’s also a key part of how Dulcinea views the contribution that businesses can make to their communities. By welcoming all with respect and dignity, and treasuring your own authenticity, a company can help ensure success.

“No matter whose culture it is, whoever you are, it’s beautiful, it’s gorgeous. You should always pay honor and homage to it. Don’t let anyone think that you shouldn’t. Be authentic to who you are. Once you are authentic to who you are, everything else will follow, including your business,” Dulcinea commented. “This is more than a café to us. It’s our ancestors; this is our life. This is our honor and respect to them. We’re happy that we get to do this in Kansas City and share with people who are learning about Latinx culture as well as those who call it their own,” she said. “And always respect other people’s cultures. They may be very different from your own, but don’t be afraid of it. Embrace it.”

The “Ancestory” Of Café Corazon
As the Café Corazon website states, “Miel Castagna-Herrera, Curtis Herrera and Dulcinea Herrera give you a uniquely flavorful coffee drink and a comfortable environment in which to socialize, relax or work.” But the success of both cafes is built on the strong foundation of family. Miel’s father, Alberto José Castagna, grew up in the heart of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and immigrated to the United States when he was 16. He celebrated life as a multi-talented artist and an enthusiastic yerba mate consumer. Curtis’ paternal grandparents, Felipa and Aniseto Herrera, came to the United States from Guadalajara, Mexico, in the 1930s to work the railroads and farms of Western Kansas as well as his mother Rita, Mescalero Apache from New Mexico. They all celebrated their heritage through family gatherings brimming with tradition and flavor.