Best of Phoenix

Bibi and Veronica Canales of Fair Trade Cafe Are Baristas, Not Robots

The 2016 edition of New Times' Best of Phoenix is out now, featuring a series of "as told to" profiles that explore how our city's proximity to Mexico makes it better.

Bibi: I was born first. I’m five minutes older than Veronica. But I don’t boss her. It’s the other way around. 

Veronica: No. It’s not true.

Bibi: We have lived here for most of our lives. Twenty-three years. We grew up near Guadalajara, Mexico. We were 9 when we came here. We went to Carl Hayden High School.

Veronica: People come in here, and they ask for the sisters. We used to have our other sister working here, but she got another job. Our niece works here, too. We brought the whole family.

Bibi: My husband is a salesman for Shamrock, and he has been selling to the owner, Stephanie Vasquez, for years. And he brought me here six years ago; he told her, “You should hire my wife.”

Veronica: I came three years ago. I was working in resorts before this. I never had a weekend off. I got here, and Stephanie was like, “You have kids? You have Saturday and Sunday off.” I was like, “What?”

Bibi: A lot of people think it’s our café. It’s because we feel so at home here. Stephanie thinks it’s funny. A lot of owners would be mad if people think you own the place, but she loves it. 

Veronica: I cannot imagine myself working, like, for Starbucks. You can’t do certain things, you have to do everything how they always do it.

Bibi: Here, no. You can be yourself, no uniform, your own personality. People come in and they go, “I like those girls. I’m going back.”

Veronica: Starbucks is like robots. 

Bibi: The coffeehouse world has changed. Now, it’s one on every corner. We don’t act like we’re a coffeehouse. This guy came in here yesterday, and he’s like, “I don’t know why I keep coming back here. I can’t stay away.” I said, “Tell me why you’re here.” He was like, “I get this good feeling, to talk to you. This is just part of my day.”

Veronica: People come here for something other than coffee. Just, like, a smile. Some people say, “I need a cup of coffee in the morning,” but what they really need is someone to smile at them.

Bibi: Sometimes with the homeless, I feel really sad for them. They come in here to use the bathroom or to, you know, get a glass of water. I don’t know why the City doesn’t do something, really, for them. I heard they just closed one of the shelters down here. I’m like, what are we doing?

Veronica: All you can do is be extra nice to them. They’re not here for the coffee cake.

Bibi: Veronica makes the best coffee cake.

Veronica: It’s a Stephanie recipe. It sells so fast.

Bibi: My specialty is coffee drinks. We don’t argue. One of us is making the cake, the other one is making the coffee. People ask if we fight. They’re like, “How can you see your sister at home, and then see her at work?” 

Veronica: Last month, we went on a family vacation together, her and her husband and kids, me and my kids, and people were like, “Aren’t you sick of each other?” No!

Bibi: People ask us strange questions. Like, “Did you ever switch places when you were kids?” We’re not identical! We’re fraternal! 

Veronica: We don’t look anything alike. How could we switch places? But we’re not here to educate. We’re here to sell coffee. And smile.

Bibi: I love being here. I asked my sister, “How come you didn’t bring me here sooner? I wasted eight years not working here!” — As told to Robrt Pela

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela