Cafe Xoco-latte Bushwick brings Mexican, Ecuadorian treats and coffee to Wilson Avenue

owners of cafe xoco-latte behind counter
Friends and business partners Isrrael Martinez and David Almagro have opened Xoco-latte Bushwick.
Photo by Anna Bradley-Smith

When Isrrael Martinez and David Almagro met working behind the bar at a late-night spot in Astoria in 2018, they formed an instant friendship sparked by their shared Latino heritage and love of hospitality.

“We just click, we work together as a team,” said Almagro, who moved to New York City from Ecuador seven years ago. “I like how he works, how he interacts with people, and I just started following him.”

After five years, the pair put their friendship to a new test: Opening Cafe Xoco-latte, a cafe inspired by their Mexican and Ecuadorian roots with the aim of supporting – and growing support for – the Latino small-business community in Brooklyn.

person making coffee at cafe xoco-latte
The cafe serves Oaxacan coffee drinks, Mexican pastries, and more. Photo by Anna Bradley-Smith

Xoco-latte Bushwick, a play on the Aztec word Xocolatl, opened at 513 Wilson Ave. in November last year, serving Oaxacan coffee drinks, Mexican pastries, tamales, and a simple breakfast sandwich menu from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The signature Xoco-latte drink is a combination of the pair’s heritage: a shot of Mexican coffee and spices, Ecuadorian chocolate, and steamed milk.

The cafe, which gets its fair trade certified coffee beans at Brooklyn Roasting Company, also rotates beans from other South and Central American countries, including Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Martinez and Almagro are planning to get a second grinder so they can offer two blends at a time.

“It’s very important for us to be conscious consumers, and that people know Latin America has a lot of flavors and a lot of quality,” Almagro said.

The pastries and bread sold at the cafe are all from a local Mexican bakery in Bushwick, and the tamales served on the weekend are made by a friend’s mom whose recipe is from Oaxaca.

Martinez said the focus on supporting local Latino businesses and entrepreneurs was about building a network.

“Our focus was like, you’re Mexican, you’re Hispanic, you’re Latino? You deserve to be supported. Our mentality is let’s try to create unity between us Latinos,” he explained.

pastries in case at Cafe Xoco-Latte Bushwick
The pastries are sourced from a local Mexican bakery. Photo by Anna Bradley-Smith

Both Almagro and Martinez have been involved in hospitality since they were teens. Almagro worked in Ecuador, and Martinez, whose family moved from Mexico to New York City when he was 10, started as a busboy at an Italian restaurant in Little Italy. For them, the service industry is not a means to an end, but something they both love and want to create within, they said.

In 2021, after years working in a number of different roles, the pair decided to branch out on their own and test out a new title, co-owner, by opening the cafe together. Martinez said while a bar would have been the obvious first step for the two nightlife vets, that would have involved a lot more capital, a lot more paperwork and permitting, and a lot more time.

Even making the decision to move forward with the cafe wasn’t easy, he said. “You know, coming from not having anything, to be able to own something, it’s not the easiest decision sometimes, there’s a lot of risk,” he said, adding the pair doesn’t have the comfort of family money behind them.

When they did make the leap, Martinez said he knew the Bushwick or Ridgewood area was the place he wanted to set up shop. His family had landed in the neighborhood on arriving in the city, and he said he wants to continue to build on his roots there.

After looking at a few different spaces, the pair found 513 Wilson Ave., a garage attached to the three-story house at 1240 Hancock St., and said they knew it was the one. Not far from Irving Square Park, it had previously housed Jeva Cafe and the cafe structure was pretty much intact, he said.

location of cafe xoco-latte
The owners found an ideal space in the former home of Jeva Cafe. Photo by Anna Bradley-Smith

Despite that, Martinez and Almagro embarked on a construction journey, stripping the space themselves and rebuilding using Jeva Cafe’s skeleton to craft their vision.

“We thought we would get the space in July and open in September,” Martinez laughed, but the pair ended up spending more time getting the details right and opened in November. With the help of their friends, they did the build-out themselves including the tables and seating, and had Latino-inspired art painted on the walls.

Martinez said the overall goal with the cafe has been to create a place that is truly inviting to everyone in the community. He said despite being bilingual, he’s been left feeling awkward as a Latino walking into some cafes, and “I’ve promised myself that I would never make anybody feel that way.”

Being able to create that space not far from where he started at elementary school is “a wonderful feeling,” he said. “For me to be able to see my kids grow up and create a memory with them in this establishment is going to forever live … it means everything you know, this is home, so it’s just a great feeling to be able to continue to what has been taking me all of these years.”

woman at table in cafe Xoco-latte Bushwick
Martinez said they hope the cafe is a space that is comfortable and safe for all kinds of people. Photo by Anna Bradley-Smith

While Martinez and Almagro are focused on growing their offerings at Xoco-latte Bushwick – including expanding the menu, getting the second grinder, and applying for a beer and wine license – there are also plans to grow the business in the future. Martinez said if everything goes well, the pair would love to open another cafe in Ridgewood, as well as other Brooklyn locations. And they do eventually have their sights set on a bar.

Jeva Cafe, which used to be in the Wilson Avenue building, was opened in 2020 by local hospitality veteran Stephanie Rolon. The cafe offered a range of bagels, cakes, drinks, and other items, and also had a big focus on community hosting game nights and pop ups. Rolon passed away in 2023, and the cafe has been closed since.

In an Instagram post remembering Rolon, fellow Wilson Avenue restaurant Father Knows Best wrote: “Steph was our first employee at Father Knows Best. We ran into her on the sidewalk during construction and she remembered one of the founders from back in the early ’00s from a cafe in Williamsburg. From that day forward, she was on Team Fathers. She helped make Fathers what it is today, bringing the hospitality that was in her DNA. She loved the community she lived in, and the community loved her back. Her voice always filled the room with warmth and love. We were blessed to share so many fun memories with her over the years. We thank her for all the good times and great hugs!”

— This story first appeared on Brooklyn Paper’s sister site Brownstoner.