"I felt like I was living with my parents," says Et Rivera, with a laugh.
Rivera, the owner of the Mexican-inspired coffee bar Tres Leches Café, is talking about the days when he served drinks from a coffee cart inside NYC-style deli Scott's Generations in central Phoenix.
"I didn't really feel like it was my place. I felt like I was staying with friends," he says.
Today, Tres Leches Café is all grown up and living on its own.
After more than a year inside Scott's Generations, Rivera and his team moved Tres Leches Café to its first standalone location last fall.
The new location is at 1330 West Roosevelt Street, inside a small, historic home near the corner of 15th Avenue and Roosevelt. The coffee shop had its soft opening on Halloween, and has been gradually settling into its new home since then.
Rivera says the shop has not yet had an official grand opening celebration, but that it finally feels like it's "open-open" now.
"This is officially our first place," Rivera says. "I have a lot of family and friends here helping me, and it definitely helps having a support system."
Having a strong support system has been instrumental in dealing with the challenges Tres Leches Café has faced in making the transition to its first standalone location, says Rivera.
The neighborhood has been welcoming for the most part, says Rivera, but there has been some tension over the use of the small parking lot next door.
Shortly after the coffee shop moved in, several prominent "No Tres Leches Café Parking" signs went up in the adjacent lot. Rivera made the rounds before the cafe opened to introduce himself to neighboring businesses, he says, and most people seemed excited at the prospect of having Tres Leches in the neighborhood.
It's unclear exactly who put up the signs, Rivera says. For its part, the shop put up several fliers instructing their customers to use the small parking lot behind their building, which has about eight spots.
Rivera says there have also been at least three surprise visits from city inspectors in a short window of time. But the cafe breezed through all inspections, he says.
Although the small house where Tres Leches is located has always been zoned for commercial use, previous tenants were mostly office-based businesses. The increased traffic to the property seemed to stir up some resentment from unidentified neighbors, says Rivera.
Apart from those headaches, there was also some costly equipment failure, including a broken espresso machine that cost upward of $2,000 to fix. The shop was forced to close its doors for much of December to deal with repairs and complete construction work on the property.
But, shortly before Christmas, Tres Leches opened its doors again, and Rivera says it's now fully operational.
The new space is small, currently set up mostly for takeout drink orders. But there are a handful of tables and chairs for lounging. A TV blasts an eclectic mix of pop, Latin, and rock en español videos, and you can can enjoy your coffee with a small, revolving assortment of baked goods, including pan dulce and the cafe's signature moustache cookies.
Rivera says there are several projects in the works, including building out the front patio, which he hopes will someday become the cafe's main hang-out area.
In the meantime, Tres Leches is doing what it does best: serving addictively smooth, rich and highly creative coffee drinks, many of them inspired by traditional Mexican treats and drinks. On the weekends, the shop showcases newer menu creations, like the horchata-inspired Café Hor'ale! There is also a secret drink menu available on most First Fridays — just ask.
The shop has also instituted a sort of Sunday brunch alternative called "Cruda Sundays," where you can relax with coffee and oldies tunes played on original 45s, courtesy of the Rosewax Vinyl Club. The event happens weekly from 8 a.m. to noon.
The coffee shop is doing brisk takeout business at the new location, Rivera says. He even sees some loyal customers drop by more than once in the same day to get their Tres Leches fix.
So, perhaps the best news of all for loyal Tres Leches fans are the extended hours at the new location. You can now get your latte fix from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays, and from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on the weekends.
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"I've got tons of drinks. I create drinks all the time," says Rivera, whose always-evolving menu of coffee-based drinks has developed a serious cult following around town.
To see what Rivera is currently concocting for the shop, visit the.