On one side, 1401 Zuni St. in Sun Valley looks deserted. Amid the industrial backdrop of warehouses and highway viaducts, the building looks like a scene from the latest “Halloween” movie.
But on the other side, there’s life. A pretty full parking lot, Raices Brewery, the South Platte River and an inviting red umbrella outside glass doors signifying existence.
Inside, is one the few coffee shops in the area, dispensing cold brews and vanilla lattes.
It’s also a social enterprise run by the nonprofit, Girls Inc. of Metro Denver.
Strong, Smart & Bold Beans has been serving coffee to the Sun Valley area since its humble beginnings inside the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Branch Library.
The shop moved to the mixed-used development, Steam on the Platte, in 2018 and is continuing its mission to provide employment, entrepreneurial training and general work-life skills to girls in the program.
“It’s been a cool journey from being a table outside of our programming center to being a fully functioning shop,” said Jenny Valadez Fraire, the shop manager.
Bold Beans started in 2015 as an entrepreneurial social enterprise program for Girls Inc. of Metro Denver, said Sonya Ulibarri, the president & CEO of the Denver chapter.
Ulibarri said the social enterprise is a pipeline to move the girls from college into the real world.
The goal is to provide employment opportunities while also providing a space for the young women to learn how to run a business. Valadez Fraire said the shop is very hands-on and the baristas are involved in all aspects of the shop, including creating recipes, marketing and managing finances.
Ulibarri said there are Girls Inc. organizations across the U.S. and parts of Canada but the metro Denver chapter is one of two places that offer young women employment through an enterprise. The other is an urban farm in Memphis, Tennessee.
“We moved away from a model where teens were just program participants in a workshop,” Ulibarri said. “What teens were really looking for were opportunities to be leaders. To have these real-world experiences like jobs and to be paid for their work to earn money.”
Valadez Fraire agrees.
“For a lot of our girls, this is their first job,” Valadez Fraire said. “So they get to learn, ‘What is a resume? How do you interview? What does being a good employee look like and what does having a good manager look like?’ And on top of that we have the business and entrepreneurial side of the program. Overall, the skills are really valuable.”
Valadez Fraire joined Girls Inc. in 2017 as a high school senior to participate in the organization’s college prep programs. Once she enrolled at Metropolitan State University of Denver, she needed a new job and Bold Beans had availability.
Valadez Fraire has worked at other places but none as nurturing as Bold Beans, where she said she’s flourished, working her way from barista to manager and learning what it means to become a leader.
“Leadership is about how you can make your team work collectively together and use all of their strengths,” Valadez Fraire said. “I try to include all of the girls in everything… by giving them some sort of control over what they do. It isn’t just come in and work. I want to know what you’re passionate about. Are you interested in the marketing aspect? Are you interested in the finances? My goal is to create a wonderful team…by guiding the baristas to fulfill their goals.”
Valadez Fraire said Bold Beans and Girls Inc. are focused on the future and the goal is for the young women to move on and have careers. Valadez Fraire graduated from MSU in the spring with a degree in psychology, and she’s considering graduate school. In the meantime, she’s working on research modules, while continuing to manage Bold Beans.
Baristas Diana De La Rosa Santiago and Maricarmen Rodriguez Jara can attest to Bold Beans mission.
Valadez Fraire introduced Rodriguez Jara to Bold Beans about three years ago. The two met at MSU, where Rodriguez Jara graduated with a degree in human services and counseling with a concentration in high-risk youth studies.
“I told Jenny I hated my other job,” Rodriguez Jara said. “I needed something better and more understanding and she told me about Bold Beans … then I became more involved in Girls Inc. They told me about the internship program… so I interned with the elementary team over the summer, working with first- and second-graders. Bold Beans and Girls Inc. really wants to help, and they make sure to let you know that education comes first.”
Santiago has been with Girls Inc. since the second grade and is now a junior at the University of Denver. She’s in a marketing program at the Daniel’s College of Business.
“I’ve been working since I was 14,” Santiago said. “It’d be jobs over the weekend or jobs that were really difficult to sustain while doing my studies. Bold Beans helped me get that work experience. I’ve also always enjoyed the other programs and the empowerment Girls Inc. offers. They shaped me to be proud of who I am as a young woman of color and showed me that I am strong, smart and bold.”
Valadez Fraire said that’s the Girls Inc. motto and why the organization focuses on serving families of color.
“Overall, in our society, women and our girls don’t get the care and respect we deserve,” Valadez Fraire said. “I feel like with focusing on girls, we’re able to interrupt this chain that’s formed over time. We’re able to let young girls know how powerful they are and how worthy they are and how much potential they have.”
So, what’s next for the coffee house?
During the height of the ongoing pandemic, Bold Beans had to slow down its ventures but Valadez Fraire would like to see more catering events and the return of their coffee truck.
In typical coffeehouse fashion, the gang is releasing some Halloween flavors, including “the Frankenstein,” a matcha chai latte mixed with oat milk, which was created by Santiago.
“Tastes like fall,” Valadez Fraire said.