When you set foot in Cafe Olama, a Mexican cafe that opened in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District in March, you’ll notice a drink menu that’s strikingly simple compared to its surroundings. The cafe’s walls display vibrant prints by Hispanic artists, and bright colors — from artwork to houseplants to furniture — pop throughout the space. The menu, however, only shows eight items written in gold script.
Lesley Reyes and her husband, Francisco Marguia Jr. started the company to bring a taste of Mexico to Kansas Citians by specializing in a handful of original Mexican recipes for traditional craft drinks with natural ingredients.
Reyes never considered running a cafe in his hometown. When her mother, Irma Hernandez, took over the building on Southwest Boulevard in 2002, Reyes told her that she eventually wanted to open a business there, but it always seemed like a fleeting dream. When she entered her twenties, Reyes and her husband moved to pursue their careers – Reyes as a makeup artist, Marguia Jr. as a football coach – thinking they would never live in Kansas City again so permed. Then Reyes and Marguia Jr. had a child.
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“After having our son, that’s when we were most struck by the fact that we were kind of living in a modern bubble,” Reyes says. “We absolutely need our family. It was very difficult for my husband and I not to have our families, not only to help us with our son, but just for emotional support.
They came home, and the timing fell into place. The cafe occupies a space that once served as a terminal for a bus line that carried passengers from Kansas City to Mexico and back. Once the pandemic hit and the US-Mexico border was closed, the owners of the business left the building, creating an opportunity for Reyes and his family to fulfill his lifelong dream.
“It happened so fast. It was kind of like a ‘boom,'” Reyes says. call home’ or ‘I haven’t had this drink in years since I’ve been in Mexico.’ Even people from Colombia say they haven’t had ingredients like this since they got back [home]. To hear these things is exactly what we wanted.
Café Ollama’s star drink – and most popular – is café de olla, a style of coffee originating in rural Mexico that is slowly infused with canela, piloncillo and spices. Where other cafes offer their own version of the classic drink, Reyes has never altered its café de olla recipe. It’s crucial for Reyes, Marguia Jr. and their families — who make up the cafe’s staff — to make drinks exactly the way they’re made in Mexico.
Take the much-requested chatita – made by mixing espresso with agua de horchata, a creamy rice-based drink – for example. Reyes says it’s common for others to add milk to the recipe, but not at Café Ollama. To compromise on even one small aspect of a recipe is to lose the connection to the Mexican heritage that the cafe strives to bring to its customers.
“What we’ve found is that a lot of things that come to the United States are changed,” Reyes says. “So for us it was very important to do everything the way it was originally done. It’s special touches like that where people really taste the difference. That’s also why we have a limited menu. My husband always says you have to specialize in a few things and make them perfect.
Café Olmama is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Cafe Ollama, 523 Southwest Blvd., Crossroads, Kansas City, Missouri, facebook.com/Ollamakc