By Emily G. Peters
Old Town Pasadena’s Amara Chocolate & Coffee has a mission: to put smiles on the faces of their community, one cup of chocolate at a time.
This intimate cafe has spent the last five years establishing itself as a neighborhood favorite, especially popular for its vegan churros and delicious dipping sauces. Chocoholics can enjoy premium, handcrafted bonbons or try one of their sipping chocolates, like the “Raymond” with salted caramel marshmallows. Caffeine addicts will find an array of signature coffees spiced with cinnamon, ginger and even chile pasilla. And you’d be crazy to skip out without tasting one—or two or three—of their gluten-free arepas (crispy corn flatbreads) or cachapas (savory crepes).
So how did Pasadena get so lucky to claim Amara for its own? Venezuelan husband-and-wife owners Amara Barroeta, a food engineer and TV host, and Alex Strubinger, an orthopedic surgeon, originally envisioned opening the cafe in their hometown of Caracas. Yet when Barroeta came to UCLA to study marketing and business, they had a change of heart.
“While at UCLA, I used Pasadena as a case study for some of my final projects,” said Barroeta. “I realized it was the perfect location for the cafe.” Their decision was a timely one. Mounting political tensions in Venezuela had contributed to a small but growing Venezuelan population in Los Angeles – and the couple immediately saw a purpose for their love of food and community.
“Many of us felt homesick, and needed a common place to keep the memories, friends, and culture of our country alive,” said Barroeta. “(The café) serves as both an incubator of ideas rooted in our Venezuelan culinary values and as a representation of what real Venezuelans are— hardworking and welcoming—not just catastrophic headlines.” That warm welcome is palpable at Amara. The stuffiness sometimes associated with gourmet products is completely absent from the cafe, without sacrificing any of the quality. Barroeta, a spokesperson for Got Milk’s 2016 – 2017 campaign, is a staunch advocate of food made with integrity and without secrets. “There is no mystery in our kitchen,” she said. “Everything is made daily in a simple way, so people know what’s in every bite.”
Though great coffee has become a commodity in Los Angeles, it’s clear the community sees Amara as something special. The cafe has won awards not just internationally, but has clinched Pasadena Weekly’s Best Dessert, Best South American Food and Best Independent Coffee House the last three years running. The recognition bodes well for the cafe’s vision for growth. “We’re currently creating partnerships with other cafes, restaurants and businesses who’ll serve our award-winning hot chocolate,” said Barroeta. “We want to become a Pasadena institution for chocolate, coffee and South American food.”
Yet beyond hopes of expansion as a brand, impacting their cafe patrons lives for the better remains their highest priority. “Our community will always come first,” said Barroeta. “We even have little kids being brought by their parents to have their first piece of chocolate. That’s just magic.” For churros, chocolate, coffee and other delights, visit Amara Chocolate & Coffee at 55 S. Raymond Ave. in Old Town Pasadena. Learn more about their products and services at www.amarachocolate.com, (626)744-1765 and follow them on Facebook @AmaraChurros and Instagram @AmaraChocolate.