Soldadera owners, from left, Gabriela Rodriguez, Mario Rodriguez and their father, Cesar Rodriguez, work the GR Fork Fest event. Courtesy Soldadera Coffee
Soldadera’s “coffee with a purpose” is soldiering on in the West Michigan beverage market, and owners Mario and Gabriela Rodriguez have made several key moves for their previously online-exclusive cold-brew brand that would serve as a springboard for continued growth into 2019.
The first big step for the small startup coffee company is moving its product into the recently completed Bridge Street Market, a Meijer-owned, small-market concept on 405 Seward Ave. NW in downtown Grand Rapids. Mario Rodriguez said he and his sister had been pushing to get their cold brew on store shelves since September.
“It takes a while for any business to understand what is needed to get into the big stores,” Rodriguez said. “(Meijer) helped us out — you got to get this correct, you got to get this type of license in there.”
Bridge Street Market gave the green light for Soldadera late in October, and Rodriguez said shoppers would be able to buy their cold brew Nov. 12.
Soldadera will enter the retail space by first distributing 1,000 bottles of its flagship “Café de Olla,” which is inspired by the type of clay pot-brewed coffee that Mexican Revolutionary War soldiers favored in the early 1900s.
Currently, Café de Olla, which features a mix of traditional sugar and spices, is the only flavor Soldadera offers, but as the brand gains traction, the Rodriguez siblings plan to add new flavors like Canelita (cinnamon) and Amargo (bitter) coffee.
Rodriguez said Bridge Street Market will open up more doors for Soldadera by adding credibility to the small, online brand.
“Vendors tend to ask you, ‘Where are you at? Are you working with a big company?’ And that was slowing us down initially, so this is going to help us a lot,” he said.
The launch to Bridge Street Market coincides with another successful move. Soldadera was selected as the official coffee sponsor for the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction, which also happened Nov. 12, at DeVos Place.
“Originally, we just planned on being there as another vendor,” Rodriguez said. “Our PR guy told us there was a spot open for being a sponsor, so we jumped for that opportunity.”
Soldadera also will debut its new subscription crates at the Signature Chefs Auction before making them available online by December. Soldadera fans will be able to subscribe via its website, soldaderacoffee.com, to receive monthly batches of coffee, along with brand merchandise.
“It’s kind of like a gift box, which is more of a premium look,” Rodriguez said. “Literally, it’s a crate, and inside not only would you see our coffee in there, but you’ll see our T-shirt, mug, patches and a notebook.”
Rodriguez said the crates are geared toward Soldadera’s women empowerment mission, in keeping with the company name, which is Spanish for female soldier.
An earlier Business Journal report noted the Rodriguez siblings decided on the name Soldadera as a tribute to their grandmother, Cristina, who was a social activist in Mexico.
Part of Soldadera’s mission is to raise awareness of minority women’s issues via podcasts and Facebook videos to connect with women and talk about their stories to inspire others.
Rodriguez said the funds from the subscription packages also will help Soldadera maintain its growth going into 2019.
“The key is more flavors, more cultural things and bringing more diversity to West Michigan,” he said.
According to previous Business Journal coverage, Soldadera Coffee gained traction by winning three separate Start Garden business pitch events earlier this year. In July, the coffee startup became one of 10 winners of Start Garden’s 100 ideas competition and took home a grand prize of $20,000.