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Associated Press Newswires

Latin Internet Cafe New Twist To Hispanic Business Trend


September 29, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - It's a place Latinos have been longing for and Americans may savor -- that is, if they try the sweet, warm "coffee with milk."

Venezuela native Rodney La Salvia says the best thing about Cafe-Con Leche.Net (which means coffee with milk) is the Spanish language is spoken in a flurry, and the crunchy cream-filled pastries remind him of home.

The owners are hoping to tap into South Carolina's rapidly growing Hispanic market and others looking for cyber connections with old world charm. "The coolest thing about this place is it offers the Latino flavor," La Salvia said.

Part-owner Craig Rosado, 36, said he came up with the idea on a trip to Europe, where Internet cafes are surrounded by eateries vying to feed Web surfers. "I thought that if I could just cut a hole in that wall," Rosado said.

It is a twist on the typical Hispanic-owned business, said Luz Rodriguez-Arpan, president of the marketing firm Hispanic Connections Inc. "It's not just your grocery store or typical Mexican restaurant," she said.

The cafe held a grand opening party recently, but was waiting Monday for several inspections to be completed before it could officially open.

Colorful paintings from local Hispanic artists hang on the cafe's yellow walls, which are topped by a blue ceiling. A row of computers line one wall and sit opposite a sandwich counter that divides the long, narrow building. The restaurant is located in the heart of Five Points, the city's restaurant and nightclub area near the University of South Carolina.

"I'm sure a lot of Latin people will come here, maybe looking for friends from their own country," said USC student Adriana Bejarano, who checked her e-mail during the party.

The restaurant will serve Cuban sandwiches, pastries and cafe con leche -- a popular coffee drink among Latinos. The cafe will offer at least 30 computer terminals and live Xbox games.

"I wanted to do something that was different in Columbia," said Rosado, who has roots in Puerto Rico but was born in New York. "I wanted to bring in a flare of our culture."

USC economics professor Don Schunk agreed it was a unique idea that could catch on, especially in the high-growth market.

South Carolina's Hispanic population grew 13.6 percent in the past two years, the nation's sixth-fastest growth rate, according to U.S. Census estimates.

"Anytime that happens, it's going to create sort of a new demand coming from that segment of the population," Schunk said.

Rosado also hopes to underprice his Internet competition. A nearby copy store charges $12 an hour for Internet use. At Cafe Con-Leche, customers will pay $5 an hour -- less if they buy a membership.

The cafe also will service computers, and Rosado envisioned customers bringing in a computer with a minor problem and having lunch while it's repaired.

La Silvia said if the atmosphere is right, he could see himself coming to the cafe once, maybe twice a week.

"There's something about the coffee, the sweets, that all Latin people are longing for when they come to the United States," he said.

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