A love for coffee: Latte Abini Coffee opens after long preparation
Seven years ago, his idea to open a coffee stand was a dream in the making.
The civil engineer wanted to share his love for coffee and create a business opportunity for the reservation.
So, Zachariah Bitsuie, who is a firm believer in good old-fashioned hard work and waking up early in the morning to get a job done, did just that and opened Latte Abini Coffee.
Bitsuie said he visited many mom-and-pop coffee shops while on work-related business trips to get his idea off the ground and into a business plan.
And he wanted it to be authentic and traditional and not like the commercialized version the reservation was introduced to a few years back.
“It’s something I wanted to bring to the Navajo Nation because there’s hardly anything here besides Starbucks,” he said.
Bitsuie, who is Mą’ii Deeshgizhnii, born for Tó’ahaní, whose maternal grandfathers are Tł’ááschí’í and whose paternal grandfathers are Áshįįhí, said he wanted to bring the feel of his coffee-drinking experiences back to the reservation.
Growing up on the reservation, he also understood that despite many business opportunities there was not many locally-owned businesses to spend money at.
“The Navajo Nation, they want to expand on the economy and be self-sustainable and more self-reliant on ourselves instead of going into local towns,” Bitsuie said. “I mean that’s what I want to see is more economic development here than to support the border town.”
With the help of his niece, they began creating the ingredients that are unique to the Navajo Nation. Being a coffee-drinker and starting a new business, Bitsuie said he asked his mentors many questions and did a lot of research before things got going.
“It just didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “I mean I had a lot of research and talking to a lot of people, you know, of course, blending a lot of things.”
He recruited his niece who helped him refine the drinks he wanted to make. After a while, they made several drinks and began naming them.
One they named is “Brown Shoogee,” which is comprised of a secret blend of ingredients. “Shoogee” is a Navajo slang for “sugar.”
Another drink Bitsuie added to the menu was the well-known Navajo drink called dééh.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, his work in the civil engineering field slowed down. That’s when he dedicated a lot of his time to getting his small coffee stand off the ground.
He purchased a vintage espresso machine. Next, he needed a logo. He enlisted the help of Veronica Morgan, his manager.
“She’s the one that helped me with the logo because she’s an artist herself, and I just want to give a big prop to her with helping me make that design and basically managing the coffee shop there,” he said.
The coffee shop logo looks like the Navajo Nation seal with the arrowheads pointing outward in a circular pattern.
The rainbow, represented by three lines, is drawn inside of the arrowheads. Inside the rainbow, Morgan drew the shop’s name, along with a goat, when the business was established, and Bitsuie’s hometown of Goat Springs.
Next, he needed a place to set up his stand. Rob Day, owner of Day Customs, which is about a half a mile west of the Navajo Nation Fairgrounds on the south side of State Highway 264, said Bitsuie approached him about opening his stand.
“So, he stopped by, and I said, ‘Hell yeah, bring your trailer, let’s get this rolling,’” Day told Bitsuie.
Day said he understood the challenges of starting a business and knew he wanted to help the up-and-coming coffee maker in any way he could.
“Helping a small business get started is what is needed not ‘here is paperwork fill this out and we will let you know,’ or ‘sorry, no space available,’” Day said, explaining the difficulty of opening a business in the Nation.
In mid-July, Bitsuie dragged his small trailer, with Morgan’s freshly drawn design painted on the side, to Day’s shop and opened for business. He hired Morgan and three other young coffee makers.
“Having a good coffee or freshly made sunrise drink-flavored coffee is the bomb,” Day said of the difference between Bitsuie’s business and commercialized coffee. “His coffee is way better than corporate coffee that is usually not so fresh. Having a Navajo name also made the coffee shop original.”
For five weeks now, Bitsuie’s vision of bringing his love for coffee and sharing that dream with the Navajo people has been slowly building, thanks to the social media ingenuity of Morgan, who created social media accounts for the shop.
On Saturday morning, a new customer and potential repeat Latte Abini Coffee fan, Jacelyn Woodie from Window Rock, stopped by and ordered her drinks.
“I’ve been seeing the advertisement on Facebook and Snapchat, you know, a lot of people are promoting them through social media,” Woodie said. “I said, ‘Hey they’re finally open. Let’s go check it out.’ So, that’s what brought me here today.”
Woodie said the stand sells a drink she likes at other mainstream corporate-owned businesses.
“I’m a fan of iced coffee, caramelized coffee from Starbucks, McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts,” she said. “But I’m gonna see how they make their mix here and go from there.”
After a few minutes, Morgan and fellow coffee maker and employee Cole Frame made Woodie’s orders.
“We create so many, like if you have a certain one you want, we can make it or even if you have a curiosity of one that’s online, we can possibly make it for you,” Morgan said.
Even former Miss Navajo Radmilla Cody complimented the coffee she bought from his stand.
“We got our ahwééh fix at Latte Abini Coffee,” Cody wrote. “Ayóó Łikaan!”
Currently, Bitsuie said the business does not take online or phone orders because they’re still small.
They are open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturday, from 7 a.m. to around 1 p.m.
Bitsuie said if not for the mentorship of Day, his coffee stand would not have gotten off the ground.
“I want to give a special thanks to Rob Day of Day Customs for being a business mentor and providing me a workspace to work out of,” he said. “He’s been very supportive throughout the start of the coffee shop.”
“I’m confident that Zacks business will continue to grow,” Day said. “Social media is what makes you grow now and good coffee – not no Keurig.”
Information: Latte Abini Coffee on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat or 480-593-6459.