Coffee shop builds community – Burke County Notebook – Morganton News Herald

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Christian and Erica Ramazzini and their children were joined by Morganton Mayor Ronnie Thompson for Little Guatemala’s grand opening Sept. 18.
The winners of a Guatemalan/Morganton trivia contest won ceramic Monja Blanca flowers, the national flower of Guatemala, made by local artist Debbie Moss Van Ordstrand.
Twenty-four teams making up two men’s soccer leagues enjoy indoor soccer six days a week.
A couple dances to live music on the patio during the grand opening ceremony at Little Guatemala.
Luca Ramazzini, son of Christian and Erica, enjoys the grand opening of Little Guatemala.
Earlier this year, the Morganton Writers Group found an open-air haven for our regular meetings — Little Guatemala coffee shop and community center.
Once a week, we climb the stairs from the rear parking lot and step onto a covered patio where a large, reserved table awaits us. We listen to Mayan music and acknowledge other customers going into and out of the coffee shop and indoor soccer field as we chat and wait for all our members to arrive.
One by one we succumb to the tempting aroma of custom roasted coffees, going into the shop to make our purchases. The friendly baristas and vibrant décor create a sense of warmth and welcome as we take in the environment with all our senses.
If we’re a little hungry, we pick up a slice of the Guatemalan pastry of the day or take home some bean-to-bar organic chocolate. As we wait for the coffee to brew, we peruse the colorful and varied collection of native crafts and gift items that seems to offer something new every week.
Christian Ramazzini, who founded and owns Little Guatemala with his wife Erica, is usually working behind the register or in back of the store when we arrive. Erica does the bookwork for the family business and makes the chocolate.
Before coming to America, Christian worked in the food industry, managing restaurants and becoming an expert in coffee making and the coffee business. When he and Erica married in 2009, they moved from Guatemala to Morganton, where her parents live. They didn’t yet fully realize the size of the Guatemalan community that had come to Burke County to work at Case Farms in the early 1990s.
Taking a position with the North Carolina Farmworker Health Program at the Good Samaritan Clinic, Christian provided transportation, interpretation, case management and health care coordination for migrant farm workers, many of whom were Guatemalan.
“I kind of got lucky,” he said with a smile, and Erica added “God just put us here.”
Christian’s goal was to build a business that would be “about the community and not just about us.”
With a desire to someday own a coffee shop and soccer complex, the couple started a business called Ramazzini Roasters in their home, roasting coffee to sell to friends. The business grew into a mobile coffee and chocolate shop called Little Guatemala.
Early efforts to purchase a building for the growing business met with some resistance, because most local business owners didn’t see a market for indoor soccer, and nothing of the sort had ever been done here. Christian recognized the need for environments that strengthen and support not only the physical health of the Latino community, but that also support mental health and well-being.
In 2018, the mobile shop became part of the community complex now located at 810 E. Union St. in Morganton.
The business’s name was chosen to reflect cultural pride and create a sense of geographical place and belonging. Christian points out that there are two other Guatemalan businesses near the store, so he sees Little Guatemala becoming a neighborhood identity, not just a single building.
With the large Guatemalan population, Erica recognizes how well-suited her husband’s vision is to Morganton.
“The uniqueness is already here,” she said, “we’re just a door to it.”
Christian added, “We also want to be a bridge for Guatemalans and Americans.”
In addition to offering a view of Guatemalan life for all who visit, he wants to make a positive statement of cultural identity and capacity and be a source of pride for Guatemalan youth.
To help achieve that, the business offers an affordable venue where families can celebrate events and cultural traditions such as quinceaneras — the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday and her transition to womanhood.
An indoor soccer complex also is available onsite, where groups can rent the field by the hour. From 5-10 p.m. Monday through Friday and all day on Saturday, Christian says, “The building comes alive,” as people come to play and watch games. Twenty-four rotating teams in two men’s leagues share the space, and women’s and children’s leagues will soon begin on Saturdays.
“Most families are working families and can’t get to the city’s recs by closing time,” Christian said. “Two women’s teams come and play regularly at night when the kids are in bed, that’s when they have time.” Later hours allow the players to get a babysitter and bring their spouses for a community date night.
Christian sees the need for safe spaces in the Latino community first-hand, and he is intentional about building trust. He once refused to allow bounty hunters to enter the premises searching for someone, calling in local law enforcement to assure that the rights of his customers were respected.
Christian and Erica Ramazzini exemplify an emerging entrepreneurial approach that takes a more balanced view of people and profit, where a sense of community well-being is as important to the owners as earnings.
“We stay true to the community,” Christian says.
Leslie D. McKesson is a member of the Morganton Writers Group.
Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America, according to the National Hispanic Heritage Month website, hispanicheritagemonth.gov.
The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded to a month-long observance by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Sept. 15 is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is Oct. 12, falls within this 30 day period.
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Christian and Erica Ramazzini and their children were joined by Morganton Mayor Ronnie Thompson for Little Guatemala’s grand opening Sept. 18.
The winners of a Guatemalan/Morganton trivia contest won ceramic Monja Blanca flowers, the national flower of Guatemala, made by local artist Debbie Moss Van Ordstrand.
Twenty-four teams making up two men’s soccer leagues enjoy indoor soccer six days a week.
A couple dances to live music on the patio during the grand opening ceremony at Little Guatemala.
Luca Ramazzini, son of Christian and Erica, enjoys the grand opening of Little Guatemala.
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