Gregorio Menéndez Bustelo (born June 21, 1989) traveled from his native Spain to Cuba when he was young and moved to the United States in 1917. He founded the coffee company Café Bustelo in East Harlem, New York, in 1928. Almost a century ago, a young and ambitious Gregorio Bustelo arrived in East Harlem, New York, from Spain. A man consumed by a passion for travel, Gregorio visited many Latin American cities throughout his life, including the cultural capital of Havana, Cuba. He became known for his espresso coffee and became one of the most prominent names in the Latino coffee community. For nearly 90 years, Café Bustelo has established itself as the leading coffee brand in many Latino homes, from Florida to New York and other parts of the United States.
But hidden in the intense aroma and flavor of old Cuban-style espresso is a story about the first Spanish-speaking immigrants who came together from different countries to build one of the first Latino communities in New York. I am referring to Goya Foods, founded by Prudencio Unanue, and Bustelo Coffee, founded by Gregorio Bustelo. Their dedication to making high-quality, intensely flavored espresso coffee drove Café Bustelo from East Harlem and Miami to reach wineries and coffee makers across the United States. The red and yellow can of Café Bustelo is to the modern kitchen what Heinz ketchup bottles are to American diners.
In the 1930s, Gregorio began selling Bustelo coffee to Latin-owned wineries and independent supermarkets, going door to door to develop his business while maintaining close friendships with owners whom he considered family. At the time of the acquisition, Time referred to Café Bustelo as a “Cuban Miami coffee brand” with little national recognition. Bustelo took advantage of an existing community and turned it into a strong and identifiable marketing demographic. With the money Gregorio had saved while working at the Hotel Pennsylvania restaurant, he opened a store in New York in 1928 on 5th Avenue called Bustelo Coffee Roasters.
In recent years, Bustelo has also become a symbol of pop culture for a wide range of people, including American workers, as well as geeks and hipsters. And even the recent Netflix series Luke Cage, based on the imposing black strong man from Marvel who lives in the other Harlem, presents an empty Bustelo can as an oath jar, which in itself is said to be a tribute to Prince, who used an empty Bustelo can in real life. When Gregorio Bustelo arrived in East Harlem in the late 1920s, he saw an opportunity to serve the immigrant population from Spanish-speaking countries in the area. Although its distribution has grown significantly over the years, Café Bustelo coffee is still coveted by Café Bustelo fans today.
Using a secret blend of coffee beans, Gregorio crafted the delicious and beloved flavors that consumers now recognize as Café Bustelo, an authentically Latin espresso style coffee. Along the way, Rowland Coffee Roasters collected smaller brands such as Café Pilon, the most popular coffee brand in Cuba before the revolution, and El Pico. As a product, Café Bustelo satisfied both a tangible and an abstract need, providing consumers with a tool to continue the tradition.