Mom and Daughters Serve Afro-Latina Flavors

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It all started with a class assignment that asked students to write down what they wanted to do later.

“Taking back my mom’s coffee,” seventh-grader Imena wrote.

When Aida Villegas found her daughter’s homework while cleaning the house, she immediately called her eldest daughter. “She wants to take the coffee back,” she said.

“What coffee?” Catalina asked.

Since Imena was 2 years old, she had heard her mother talking about her to dream of open a cafe. It didn’t matter that at the time the café only existed as a collection of loose sheets and plans written in a black notebook.

For 15 years, Villegas had been jotting down ideas, envisioning a small Caribbean restaurant, but wanted to take “small steps” and open a cafe first to see if she could grow the business.

The 42-year-old had just earned a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship and small business from the University of Phoenix and that same year her eldest daughter Catalina graduated from high school. She remembers thinking, “When are you going to stop being scared?”

Until then, fear had kept her from pursuing the idea, but on this day in 2019, she decided to take the plunge.

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Aida Villegas shows off a tattoo on her finger on June 22.

A future for his daughters

Cicter’s Cafe – the name inspired by her daughters’ initials – opened between two car shops off Miller Road in Buckeye on June 16, 2020.

Villegas does not run the business alone; his three daughters are always by his side. Catalina, 20, manages social networks. Imena, 16, makes art. And Carolyn, 10, is the future “CEO”.

“I literally tell them they’re the boss,” she said, adding that she plans to pass the coffee on to her daughters one day. “No matter how dark the world is, there is a future for them.”

She said Juneteenth was a perfect day for the family to have a grand opening.

“We are an Afro-Latin company.” she says. “We are the dream of what our ancient families would have wanted.”

Imena Villegas, 16, watches her mother Aida prepare a vanilla latte at Cicter's Cafe in Buckeye.

What to expect at Cicter’s Cafe?

The small café, housed in a former service station, is decorated with potted plants in Café Bustelo coffee cans, a hopscotch diagram drawn in front by a 10-year-old child and a painting of a Puerto Rican flag.

Despite the cheery decor, their business is often mistaken for the stereo and tinted store behind it and sometimes people still think it’s a gas station.

“So they’ll come in and they’ll be like ‘Can I have? Uh, what? Where’s the gas,'” Catalina said. “And I’ll say, ‘It’s not here. We’ll have a coffee if you want that kind of fuel. “”

Inside, Villegas, who grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, wears a Puerto Rican flag tattooed on her arm as she serves coquito-inspired coffee drinks in a room filled with paintings by local artists. Some of the pieces were created at an art event held at the back of her shop.

They reflect his vision to bring the vibrant colors and culture of Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Jamaica to one of the fastest growing cities in the Valley.

“I was like, ‘Let’s bring something from the islands here,'” she said. “Let’s bring who we are and show the world.”

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A mango smoothie, vanilla latte and warm milk cookie on the counter at Cicter's Cafe in Buckeye.

What is on the menu?

One drink on the menu that speaks to Villegas’ childhood is a non-alcoholic version of coquito. The cinnamon-spiced coconut drink is served around Christmas in Puerto Rico, but since it doesn’t have a liquor license, she toyed with the recipe to make it complement the coffee. Its version is served as a cold infusion, latte, chai or on its own.

“It’s similar to a horchata, but it’s thicker because instead of using rice milk, we use coconut milk,” Villegas said.

Aida Villegas (left to right) and her daughters, Catalina, 20, Carolyn, 10, and Imena, 16, pose for a portrait in their trailer at Cicter's Cafe in Buckeye.

For coffee drinks, she uses Dominican Honey Wash beans and sometimes Café Bustelo, which she says is a staple in the Puerto Rican community.

The cafe sells a variety of smoothies with tropical flavors like mojito and passion fruit, and Villegas makes its own version of a cubano sandwich with ham, pork and Swiss cheese on ciabatta bread.

The menu is constantly evolving as Villegas and his daughters offer new treats like Jamaican banana bread, rum cake, guava and cheese empanadas, coffee cakes and glazed guava donuts.

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Since the cafe opened, Villegas has hosted a Latin night, an art battle, and the united dance team hold car washes there. Villegas’ three daughters are involved in the team and Villegas sits on the board.

Villegas also recently held a Juneteenth event, which she said was one of the first in Buckeye.

“The culture was really there,” said Shahira McGinty, president of United Dance Team. “People were like, ‘We’ve never seen that before in Buckeye.'”

Catalina, her eldest daughter, told her mother that she is now the inspiration for many dancing girls crew. Growing up, Catalina never saw small business owners like her.

“You did that, mom,” she said. “These little girls see us and they’re like, ‘Wow, they look like me.'”

Cicter’s Cafe is located north of First Street and Miller Road next to West Valley Tires and is open 7am-2:30pm Monday-Friday and 9am-12pm Saturday. The cafe is closed on Sundays.

Details: Cicter’s Cafe, 824 N. First St., Buckeye. 602-607-8010, facebook.com/citerscafe.

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Contact the reporter at Jonmaesha.Beltran@gannett.com or on Instagram @Jonmaesha.

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