10 Minutes With Lisette Gaviña Lopez

We talk to Gaviña Coffee’s executive marketing manager about her family’s century-long involvement in the coffee industry.


Photos courtesy of Gaviña Coffee

For many in the United States, Gaviña and Don Francisco are names ubiquitous with coffee. Countless people have endearing and familiar memories of these coffees brewing in their homes as they poured out of a Mr. Coffee drip pot, or seeing them line the shelves of the aisles at the grocery store. Gaviña Coffee (which owns Don Francisco) has been around for 150 years, and its rich history is carried on by the third- and fourth- generation members of the family-owned brand—Lisette Gaviña Lopez being one of them. We had the opportunity to ask Lisette about her family’s brands, and the various ways the family stays committed and passionate about the coffee industry to this day, no matter how it has changed and evolved from their beginnings in Cuba.

Lisette Gaviña Lopez, marketing director and Gaviña coffee family member!

Katrina Yentch: How did your family get into coffee, and what is your favorite thing about it?

Lisette Gaviña Lopez: My family started as coffee growers in Cuba over 150 years ago. It was my great-grandfather and his brother who planted our first coffee trees in the fertile mountains of Trinidad on the family’s coffee estate, Hacienda Buenos Aires. That’s where my grandfather, Francisco Gaviña, was born, and where he learned to grow and process coffee, and in the 1930s started roasting coffee for the local province. My family was in the coffee business in Cuba almost 100 years before the communist revolution, which is when my family fled Cuba through Spain and eventually settled in Los Angeles. It was a struggle for my family to start their lives over again, and yet it was my grandfather’s dream to get back into the coffee business. With the support of my grandmother, Anatolia, and their four children, my family was able to open their coffee-roasting business in Los Angeles in 1967. They quickly learned about the American coffee market, which was very different from the dark roast espresso coffee they drank in Cuba, and began providing coffee to local markets and restaurants. Fifty-three years later, third- and fourth-generation Gaviñas are working side by side carrying on our grandfather’s passion of delivering the highest-quality coffee to our customers.    

My favorite thing about coffee is that it brings people together. In our Cuban culture (and many other cultures), coffee is a life essential. We drink it more than water, and it’s usually shared with family, friends, and neighbors. The smell of the coffee brewing is a call to the kitchen for a cafecito enjoyed up to five times a day. It gives us energy, and brings us warmth and comfort when we need them most. Coffee is universal like music, and my family believes that all deserve a great cup of coffee.  

Gaviña’s beginnings are in Cuba, but their first U.S. move was in Los Angeles.

What have been a couple of the biggest challenges and rewards of running a business with your family, especially one that has been around for over a century?

In business, you have to evolve with the market and always be learning. You never master your craft; there is always something new to learn. Each generation in our family has brought its own ideas to advance the brands and the business. This means family conversations that require information sharing, education, and good listening.  There may be disagreements, but in the end we come together to do what is best for the customer, our team members, and our family, too.  

One of the biggest rewards of running a business with my family is creating a high-quality product that we are proud to put our family’s name on, and having customers partner with us as their exclusive coffee provider. Seeing our customers proudly serve a cup of Gaviña coffee or retail it on their shelf with pride makes all the challenges of running a business worth it. Helping other business owners grow their business with a high-quality cup of coffee is the ultimate reward. Another reward is seeing our team members advance in their own lives. Whether it’s buying their first home or educating the next generation, we feel successful when our community is thriving. We are one coffee family.

What kinds of things do you look for in coffee trends when making permanent changes within the Gaviña company?

The customer is at the center of everything we do, and without them we do not have a business. At Gaviña, we live this every day, and, therefore, we are obsessed with the quality of our coffee and are committed to delivering a high-quality product every time. Gaviña consistently studies consumer trends and actively pursues those that allow us to deliver a high-quality coffee product with consistency. For this reason, we do not jump on every coffee trend, and also realize that we have to innovate to stay relevant.  

Gaviña’s family involvement with the coffee company continues into its third and fourth generation of family members.

What are some of the opportunities you see for coffee producers as the industry tries to ensure a living wage for them?

The coffee farmer is essential to our business. We cannot roast and pack high-quality coffee without the coffee farmer who produces this coffee with quality, consistency, and care. Having been coffee farmers ourselves, we have a strong connection to the land and also know the challenges of the daily life of the coffee farmer, which is why we give back and help support our coffee-growing communities at origin  

Under our Gaviña Direct Impact initiative, which is our effort to produce premium coffee with a greener coffee footprint, we partner with local mills, exporters, and NGOs to provide technical assistance programs, pre-harvest loans, or other programs to support the coffee farmer and coffee-growing communities. Producers need the right tools to increase production and improve the quality of their crop to demand a premium price for their coffee. This means gaining technical knowledge and seeking out best practices to improve yields, coffee quality, and protect the land for future generations. 

Women play a vital role in the farming of coffee, and empowering women in coffee-producing communities lifts communities. Programs that provide micro-financing, health care, and education to women have proven to improve the quality of life in these coffee-growing communities. Also, investing in the next generation of coffee farmers is important. Bringing education to the youth of these communities helps to develop and retain the next generation of coffee farmers in the coffee-growing areas. We support these key stakeholders through our Direct Impact program, but there is a lot of work to do, and it’s all easier said than done.  

About Katrina Yentch 221 Articles
Katrina Yentch (she/her) is a freelance writer and Barista Magazine's Online Editor. When she's not writing, you can find her napping, cooking, and drinking whatever's on drip.