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606 COFFEE ROASTERS
Alberto Boleres

Chicago native Alberto Boleres imagined opening a café when he experienced the camaraderie at a local coffee shop near his military post while serving in Iraq. He returned to the U.S. as a Purple Heart veteran with a fierce determination to start his own business.

He traveled to Guatemala, his father’s home country, to learn the coffee business literally from the ground up. Two years later he opened what was then called Boleres Coffee to provide wholesale high-quality beans to restaurants, companies and hotels. While his business plan positioned him for success, he lacked the funds to procure his Guatemalan coffee beans.

After being denied a traditional bank loan, he applied for and received a loan from Accion through Brewing the American Dream. Alberto was able to solidify his goals and receive valuable marketing advice through counseling received at our Speed Coaching events in Chicago and through our Ad-Hoc Mentoring program. Alberto recently re-branded as 606 Coffee Roasters and continues to sell his coffee to restaurants, cafes, hotels, country clubs, and bed & breakfasts across the country while running a robust online business.

Alberto likens coffee to beer for its social quality and the way it brings people together in informal communities, its history and culture.

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How Military Experience Helped Me Become A Successful Entrepreneur

Accion client and Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program participant Alberto Boleres served in Iraq before returning to his native Chicago to start Boleres Coffee, a company specializing in direct-from-the-farm Guatemalan coffee. He took time out of his busy coffee roasting schedule to share his story and his advice for other Veterans interested in entrepreneurship.

IN WHAT BRANCH OF THE MILITARY DID YOU SERVE? WHAT MADE YOU INTERESTED IN JOINING?

I served in the Army National Guard and the Reserves in Iraq. In 1999, my best friend joined the Army. When he returned from serving, he told me about all of the opportunities the Army provides after service, like paying for school, and I was very interested in those benefits. At the time, I didn’t feel like I had much going on, and I wasn’t doing much to set myself up for success. Joining the Army changed all of that it’s the best choice I’ve ever made.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A VETERAN AND HOW IT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO START A BUSINESS.

I came up with the idea for a coffee company while I was in Iraq. I had to wait in a long line for coffee out in the heat every day, and that line gave me a lot of time to think. Once I returned from Iraq, I decided to make this daydreamed idea a reality. Starting a coffee company didn’t work out as easily as I thought it would, but the most important thing I learned in the military was to never give up. This lesson helped me to get creative and try different things when I needed to.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE STARTING AND GROWING YOUR BUSINESS. WERE THERE CHALLENGES YOU HAD TO OVERCOME?

When I first started Boleres Coffee in 2011, I faced several challenges that required some creative perseverance. For example, I realized early on that I didn’t know as much about the coffee industry as I had hoped. To learn more about my product, I was trained at an internationally recognized coffee school in Guatemala. Later, I also got certified as a coffee barista. It’s always been important to me to continue learning at every step, and I’ve definitely experienced a lot of hands-on learning as I’ve continued to grow my business.

An example of this learning-by-doing had more to do with the actual business than the coffee. I was disappointed to find out that college-level courses didn’t give me the basic business skills I needed to succeed. For instance, I didn’t know about the net 30 rule that my first distribution customers wanted to follow. Net 30 means that payment is due for a product thirty days after delivery, and my new customers were used to this payment schedule with their other vendors. Due to that schedule, I was faced with being out of coffee and money for a whole month! This particular challenge led me to Accion.

WHAT WERE YOUR REASONS FOR SEEKING FINANCE FOR YOUR BUSINESS? WHAT WAS THE PROCESS LIKE?

I needed to add to my inventory of coffee so that I could continuously supply customers without having to wait for payments to come in. I was looking for a way to alleviate this cash flow problem when my cousin introduced me to Accion. The process of securing financing gave me much more than capital, though. I gained a lot of confidence because Accion guided me through the process and I was successful very quickly. I got my loan right away, which showed me that I knew more about business than I thought I did. With this new influx of working capital and this new confidence, I was excited to grow Boleres Coffee even more.

WHAT HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE BEEN AS AN ACCION CLIENT AND PARTICIPANT IN THE SAMUEL ADAMS BREWING THE AMERICAN DREAM PROGRAM?

When my cousin first told me about Accion, I never thought I’d gain as much as I have from becoming a client. While we were making the business plan and sorting out my financing, my loan officer was so encouraging that I became even more motivated to push harder for my own success. Once I received my loan, I was quickly introduced to the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program. By taking advantage of that program’s opportunities that I really learned how much potential I had as a businessman.

Above everything else, Brewing the American Dream has given me credibility. I’m featured on the website and have collaborated with Sam Adams on several promotions for consumers. It is gratifying to have the respect of a successful craft brewery. That’s an amazing step forward to an entrepreneur like me!

In a more tangible way, the Brewing the American Dream events gave me an opportunity to meet partners that I still work with today. These business partnerships are critical to sustaining my business. For example, at a Brewing the American Dream Speed Coaching event, I met Don DiBrita of Beer Dogging, whomade it possible for me to work with Lou Dog Events on several craft beer festivals around Chicago. I also worked with the local Samuel Adams Chicago team to collaborate on several varieties of Samuel Adams beers available only in Chicago. These opportunities allowed me togrow my network and increase access to my markets all at the same time.

WE UNDERSTAND YOU RECENTLY WERE AWARDED A FELLOWSHIP WITH THE INSTITUTE FOR VETERANS AND MILITARY FAMILIES. TELL US ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCE.

Two years ago, while taking a Boots2Business course at the SBA, I learned about online business classes for people like me. The SBA connected me to a month-long online course I took through Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families. During that online course, I learned about the Institute and the fellowship opportunity for Veteran entrepreneurs. I met faculty members from the Institute through the online course, and they encouraged me to apply.

The fellowship program is part of a partnership with universities all over the country, and I did a lot of research about which university I would want to work with. Cornell University is an Ivy League school, and its program has a focus on hospitality, food, and beverage businesses. Only 20 have the opportunity to attend Cornell’s campus in Ithaca, New York for their entrepreneurship fellowship. But I learned a long time ago in Iraq that I should never give up, so I set my sights on Cornell. I was recommended by the Samuel Adams team, since we had worked together closely and they had seen the progress I’d made with my business over the years.

I was chosen for the fellowship in September 2016, and it’s been one of the best experiences of my lifetime. What I’ve learned there was priceless, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families. I am also now a part of Cornell’s alumni network, which opens even more doors for my business. The whole experience has pushed me forward in ways I would’ve never imagined.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER VETERAN ENTREPRENEURS?

Take advantage of opportunities available to Veterans. At Cornell, I learned that Veterans are three times as likely to start a business and two times as likely to be successful with that business. There are programs and opportunities open to Veterans that no one else has access to, so it’s important to take those opportunities. The resources are virtually endless if you’re willing to put in the time to seek them out.

Also, get an education! Veterans have access to free higher education in this country. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that? Honestly, it took me too long to realize how valuable this is, but I’m always wanting to learn, and I know now that you can never stop learning. So far, I’ve done that in lots of different ways, but I wish I’d taken advantage of the opportunities for Veterans in higher education a lot sooner.

Last, find something unique about the way you do business. For me, it’s how we source our coffee. Coffee companies usually go out to the farms for a week to choose the beans right as they’re starting up, but I have people on the ground in Guatemala all the time deciding which beans are the best that gives my company an advantage. We can ensure that our product remains the highest quality possible, and that’s our unique value-add to the current market of other specialty coffees in Chicago.

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?

I’m taking my own advice about education I got an Associate’s degree this past summer, and I plan to get a Bachelor’s in a field related to marketing or business in the next few years. Because of my great experience with the fellowship, I would love to go to Cornell and get a Master’s one day too.

As for my company, I definitely aim to expand. We just started doing some coffee roasting, so now we handle the whole manufacturing process. I want to grow and streamline that operation to get into more markets while maintaining our quality and connection to our coffee farmers in Guatemala. As part of our growth effort, we are rebranding Boleres Coffee as 606 Coffee Roasters. The new name pays homage to our Chicago roots, and it’s more accessible for people who speak all different languages. Check out our Facebook page for more updates as 606 Coffee Roasters continues to grow.

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Following Your Dreams After War
By Gabrielle Castaldo, Chicago Veterans
"About A Veteran"

Alberto Boleres has been an active member of our Chicago Veteran’s community, as well as the broader business community for many years. Alberto served in the Army from 2000-2008 first in the National Guard and then in the Reserves. He deployed to Iraq from 2006-2007 as an 88M Motor Transport Operator, where he received a Purple Heart.

The Inception of his Entrepreneurial Dream

It was while in Iraq, that Alberto was first inspired to start a business upon his return. He was standing in line with his buddies at Green Bean Coffee, a coffee shop on base. The shop was so popular that they were waiting in line outside in over 100℉ heat, and that’s when it hit him. He realized, “Man, people do a lot for coffee! When I get back I’m going into the coffee business!” Once he got home, he went to visit his family in Guatemala where he began his research in the coffee industry. After a lot of learning and hard work, he bought a roaster in 2014 and branded his own wholesale business, 606 Coffee Roasters, after the first 3 digits of Chicago area zip codes.

Coming Home to Bring This Dream to Life

The journey to establishing 606 Coffee Roasters was no easy feat. He joined two organizations that really helped him establish a purpose and goals for himself and his business, the YMCA Urban Warriors Program and Chicago Veterans.

Alberto was one of the first veteran volunteers with the Urban Warriors Program, which pairs the youth of Chicago who have experienced violence with veterans who had experienced trauma during service. The veterans act as a positive role model for the youth. Alberto describes this experience as “One of the first times I realized I might have PTSD. Trauma in war is the same trauma in the streets.” This volunteer work taught Alberto the power of giving back, and how it can invigorate your community and yourself to be the best you can be.

Alberto’s experience with the Chicago Veterans community was also pivotal during his transition to civilian life, and making his dream a reality.

“If it wasn’t for Chicago Veterans, I would not be where I am today. Veterans I knew when I got home were my friends, but they weren’t pushing me the way this organization does. Chicago Veterans were, and still are, leading big and positive initiatives in the community that help businesses and other nonprofits. This community has pushed me to do better. They made me believe in myself more than I already did.”

Where is 606 Coffee Now?

606 Coffee has been off the ground running as a wholesale and online business in the high quality, delectable coffee niche. Alberto received an extra boost after receiving the Brewing the American Dream award and microloan from Samuel Adams. Since then, he’s worked on establishing partners in the beer, wine, hospitality, and healthcare industries, even doing a private label blend with Rush Hospital!

Alberto took his lessons of giving back from Urban Warriors and Chicago Veterans, and is taking action himself with 606. The company is selling a special ‘Chicago Veterans Blend,’ from which a percentage of every bag sold will go back to supporting the initiatives of the organization. It’s Alberto’s way of saying, “I’m a veteran, and I can help. A lot of veterans drink coffee, and will enjoy the chance to give back.”

Advice for Fellow Veterans

Before our conversation ended, Alberto wanted to make sure we passed along some advice from him to his fellow veterans.

“I want to tell my fellow veterans there are no excuses. I know many struggle with PTSD, and some say I do, but I still chase my dreams. You shouldn’t let your past or your injuries ruin your dreams. Limit your excuses, and push forward. Life didn’t stop because of war. If for nothing else, you should do it for the guys who didn’t make it home.”

Lastly, Alberto encourages veterans to give back. “It’s not always about receiving, remember to give back. Whether that’s in a larger community, or just helping out an individual veteran.”

Thank you, Alberto, for your service, and for thinking of Chicago Veterans for your new blend! We are proud, honored and humbled to have you in our community.

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RAISE A PINT, BREW A DREAM
Accion Chicago

Accion partner The Boston Beer Company has just announced its latest promotion—Raise a Pint, Brew a Dream.

The promotion, being offered from April 15 to May 31, 2013, will support small businesses by raising funds for the Brewing the American Dream program. For every Samuel Adams Boston Lager draft purchased, from a participating location, The Boston Beer Company will contribute $.05 to our Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Fund. And the great news is there are over 10,000 participating bars and restaurants across the United States!

Since the Brewing the American Dream program began in 2008, more than 230 loans totaling over $2 million have been made to small businesses across the country. One of those loans was to Alberto Boleres of Chicago.

Boleres came up with the idea to start his own café while serving in Iraq. He witnessed the camaraderie at a coffee shop near his residence and found his passion. He returned to the U.S. as a Purple Heart Veteran with the goal of knowing the coffee industry inside and out. Alberto was determined to start his own business.

He traveled to Guatemala, his father’s home country, and completed coursework on everything from being a barista to learning the logistics of importing and exporting products. After researching the industry for 2 years, he decided to sell coffee wholesale to restaurants, corporations, and hotels and eventually decided to open his own café. With a business plan in place and new customers eager to buy, Alberto was ready to start selling coffee.

A $3,000 loan from Accion’s Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program gave Alberto the ability to buy coffee of five delicious varieties: pacamara, peaberry, espresso blend, special blend and bourbon. He was able to achieve his goal of starting a small business and has since received valuable marketing advice through one-on-one counseling from a Samuel Adams employee. Today, Alberto sells his coffee to restaurants, cafes, hotels, country clubs, bed & breakfasts and online. To check out his delicious coffee products visit 606 Coffee Roasters

This spring help entrepreneurs like Alberto Boleres make their dream a reality! Remember, if you’re going to enjoy a pint make it a Samuel Adams Boston Lager and support small businesses across the U.S.!