Vanessa Palestino wants to put romance back into coffee.

After she was laid off from a job in the finance technology space, Palestino set out to find meaningful work that allowed her to support minority- and women-owned businesses on a global scale. She was reminded of her travels to Latin America, where she was introduced to great coffee and small, intergenerational producers.

“I developed this love and relationship with coffee and its history in general,” Palestino told Downtown Voices. “And so I wanted to bring that romance back to coffee, make it approachable and fun, and add a little bit of culture to it in the process.”

That’s ultimately what led Palestino to launch Hola Coffee at the beginning of 2024. She started off by selling coffee beans online, then she added a mobile espresso cart, which currently travels all over the North Loop for events.

Palestino didn’t initially plan to open a brick-and-mortar cafe, but the opportunity fell into her lap when her friend JD Stevenson, who co-owns Natreum, told her about available space next to the cannabis shop’s new Northeast location. 

“This only happened because Natreum brought it to us,” she said.

Vanessa Palestino is the owner of Hola Coffee. Photo courtesy of Josh Herrington

Palestino’s forthcoming Hola Coffee location will be “built for grab-and-go convenience” near the corner of Fourth Street and Central Avenue in the Nicollet Island-East Bank neighborhood, where it's expected to open sometime in August. Palestino said it will be modeled after coffee bars found in big cities around the world, including Rome and Mexico City, where her father emigrated from in the ‘80s with his rock band.

Hola Coffee won’t have its own kitchen, but it will sell pastries and other pre-made items – perhaps empanadas – from local businesses. The cafe will also serve single-origin coffee from micro farmers in Latin American countries, some of whom are attached to local initiatives, like a Brazilian producer that donates 10 cents of every bag imported to the U.S. to a nonprofit that supports after-school extracurriculars for kids in underprivileged zones in Brazil.

"The whole premise behind that is to preserve the quality of the coffee, and again, like the romance and the story of coffee," Palestino said. "Coffee brings people together."

Hola Coffee will offer free parking at 326 Central Ave. SE for customers who want to quickly get in and out. The coffee shop itself will have two bar areas and several tables for customers who want to hangout and chat. Palestino noted that Hola Coffee might not be the best place for remote work due to the noise from loud music and people coming in and out of the cafe.

“That’s kind of what sets us apart from the FRGMNTs and the Silver Ferns, right?” Palestino said.