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Daniella Colad.jpg Photo courtesy of Colada Shop
Daniella Senior, founder of Colada Shop

Colada Shop’s growth is personal for founder Daniella Senior

Daniella Senior started Colada Shop in 2016 because she missed her home. She now thinks it can grow to become a nationwide concept.

Daniella Senior always knew she wanted to open her own business and her journey to get to that point is a case study in intentionality and patience. The founder of Colada Shop cut her teeth at the Culinary Institute of America, knowing she would learn from “many of the greatest chefs in the world” From there, she went to work at some of the most notable restaurants in the country alongside some of those very chefs, including Fig & Olive, America Eats Tavern by José Andrés, Zaytinya Restaurant, and Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin.

“Every job I took, I saw it as an education. I knew from an early age I wanted to own my business, so I was spending my time trying to see what my bosses were doing, what I could learn from them, understanding the financials, understanding what I can take off their plate,” Senior said during a recent interview. “When you start your own business, you’re thrown a lot of variables you don’t expect; going into it knowing as much as you can is crucial.”

Learning how to manage those variables is hard, but figuring out what the business is going to look like may be even harder. For Senior, that idea came to her while she was traveling the country doing consultancy work.

“I spent a lot of time in cafes and saw a void in many places. I felt like they all had the same product. The same beige environment. A lot of them were serving coffee with attitude, which I didn’t really enjoy,” she said. “They were trying to school you on coffee. I just wanted warmth.”

So, in 2016, she opened the first Colada Shop. Located in the Washington, DC, market, the concept pulled from her childhood memories growing up in the Dominican Republic and heavily influenced by her Cuban grandmother. Her focus was spreading Cuban coffee, and the social aspects that come with it, to the community.

“I really just started missing home and I thought Latinos are the fastest growing population in the U.S. If I’m missing home, so are they,” she said. “Missing the products we grew up with, the tropical flavors, the strong coffee.”

Senior knew coffee would be the hook that drew people in habitually, so that became her focus. There also had to be a compelling food menu to sustain business from morning to night. Now, Colada Shop’s most popular items are empanadas, Cuban sandwiches, and croquetas.

“Our sales are sustained through the day. There are some peaks at happy hour and lunch, but it’s consistent through the day, which I love because it’s what we’re meant to be doing,” she said.

The second Colada Shop opened in July 2020. Senior noted that it “took us a minute to make that jump understanding operations, what we wanted the concept to be, and how to evolve.” The biggest learning from location one to location two was adding more space to “play further into the day.” Colada Shop had found its sweet spot with its morning coffee and evening rum-based cocktails and a menu to fill both occasions. That said, she also spun off “cafecitos,” or smaller cafes with pared down menus. There are now six total Colada Shops, three of which are cafecitos.

“We’ve grown pretty rapidly since (the second location). We quickly became neighborhood staples,” Senior said.

Senior relishes the timing of it all; how the concept got off the ground just ahead of consumers’ accelerated penchant for beverages. She believes her concept will remain differentiated in a crowded space, however, because of that “extension of home” atmosphere that has become a bit harder to find in our incessant on-the-go culture.

“I want this to be an extension of your home and the feeling of nostalgia and relaxation and vacation. It reminds me of where I came from,” she said.

With that thinking as her North Star, Senior’s near-term goal is to grow Colada Shop into a new market. All six existing locations, and a seventh slated for later this summer, are located within or near the Capital Beltway. She doesn’t have the next market in mind quite yet, only noting that she wants to feel confident it can hold several Coladas. Long term, she wants to take the concept nationwide and maybe even to Wall Street.

“For me, Colada Shop is more than just a place of business that provides food, cocktails or coffee. It is also changing the dynamic of how people perceive Latino food. It’s always been perceived as lesser-than,” Senior said. “My mission is to change that perception. That growth to me has no end. My personal goal is to ring that bell.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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