Thursday, June 20, 2024

Nice Day Coffee: A successful, expat-run business in Mexico City

At least twice a week, I head around the corner to Nice Day Coffee in Mexico City’s Cuauhtémoc borough, where I spend the day clicking away at my laptop, sipping almond milk cappuccinos and chatting with the friendly staff. Over time, I got to know the owners Nery and Shirley. After spending the previous 12 years in Mérida, Nery teamed up with Shirley from San Francisco to open Nice Day Coffee in early 2022.

Curious about what it’s like to open a cafe in Mexico City as an expat, I sat down with Shirley to hear about the challenges and opportunities of opening in a metropolis as trendy as Mexico City. With an established background in the Bay Area tech scene, despite over a decade of experience from family restaurants growing up, owning a food and beverage establishment was never in her own plans. 

Until Mexico.

“It all came from an eye-opening conversation about job and career opportunities in Mexico. In California, I had been afforded an abundance of opportunity and protection; the employment culture is vastly different here. The more Nery and I chatted, the more motivated we became to create something impactful. Something that would provide true opportunities for the awesome talent that is here,” she explained. She also mentioned that starting a brick-and-mortar business became a great way to make friends and immerse into a new neighborhood.

“We originally wanted to open in Mérida, since that’s where Nery was living,” Shirley explained. But after careful evaluation, they realized that the city might not be a viable location for their envisioned Mexican-Asian fusion coffee shop and bakery. The heat in Mérida significantly reduced foot traffic during the day. And, given Shirley’s many positive visits to Mexico City, they decided to expand their search radius.

As a country, there are a ton of options for new businesses,” Shirley told me, noting that understanding the market, for whatever your offering may be, is a vital first step. 

Nery (L) and Shirley (R) (Nice Day Coffee)

Nery spent two weeks checking out more than 30 locations in Mexico City while Shirley chimed in over FaceTime from San Francisco. On the very last day of Nery’s trip, they found the perfect spot: a former sushi restaurant with sidewalk access on a tree-lined street with signs of consistent pedestrian traffic. “To be honest, we wanted something with some foot traffic, but also not too much. Given the cultural and language barriers for myself at the time, I was terrified of what we were getting ourselves into.”

She needn’t be terrified. Almost two years after opening, Nice Day Coffee is buzzing with customers from near and far. 

What makes this coffee shop stand out in a city full of, well…coffee shops?

According to Shirley and Nery, the secret to their success is the people. As owners, they have made it a priority to cultivate a “supportive, honest, and creative environment” for the team to deliver their best work.

As a customer, I couldn’t agree more. Of all the cafes I have to choose from, I regularly find myself here. Here are five reasons why.

  1. The staff: Everyone who works here is friendly, conversational, and bilingual. It makes for a comfortable, light-hearted environment.
  2. The pastries: Fresh, homemade and continuously perfected, the pan dulces often surprise the taste buds by adding an Asian spin to Mexican classics. Think matcha conchas, strawberry shortcakes with hojicha cream (an iteration of the common Mexican dessert fresas con crema, strawberries with cream), and braided croissants with figs, goat cheese, dill honey, and soy sauce. My personal favorite? The fresh-out-the-oven plain croissant.
  3. The community: Think of it as your cozy watering hole without the booze. Patrons visit for their daily coffee fix and greet each other with a smile or handshake. I myself have made several friends at Nice Day Coffee that I wouldn’t have met otherwise!
  4. The beverages: Aside from the expected cappuccinos and espressos, there is always something novel to try. The owners serve drinks like miso caramel lattes, strawberry and lychee raspados or icees, and then there’s the ever-popular Nice Day latte, made with homemade vanilla syrup and beans from Veracruz. An unexpected touch of color sparks “a smile or show of delight when we deliver it to the table” and it’s been a hit with the customers. There is also a selection of Asian-inspired teas, like jasmine and genmaicha. Mexico City is brimming with cafes, and unique twists on the usual menu items attract the attention of both locals and tourists.
  5. The design: The coffee shop is bright and sunny, simple and clean. The store front is open to the sidewalk and framed by potted mandarin trees. Colors are soft shades of beige, white, peach, and wood. There is a small bar and both in and outdoor seating. Pastries are displayed in a glass case in full view from the sidewalk, and the happy chatter amongst locals is inviting to even the most insecure of visitors.
Pastries. (Nice Day Coffee)

Since my personal opinion isn’t enough, I decided to enlist some patrons. I asked the question to four regulars, “Why do you choose to frequent Nice Day Coffee?” 

  • Paco (a local): The community.
    Carlos (an expat): Convenience, but if it wasn’t good coffee, I would go somewhere else!
  • Daniela (an expat): Well, we first went because it was close to home, but we kept coming back for the coffee, the service, and the oatmeal cookie!
  • Leo (a local): The conchas and the cortados.

Despite the coffee shop’s evident triumph, there is really only one way to truly know if the tenacity required to open up shop in Mexico City was all worth it. So I asked Shirley the almighty question. Would you do it again? Her answer? “Yes. The experience has been absolutely fulfilling and I don’t regret it at all.”

This must be true, as Shirley and Nery are set to open their second location in late 2024! Stay tuned by following Nice Day Coffee on Instagram and coming by to try what just might be the very best coffee and pastries in all of Mexico City.

Bethany Platanella is a travel planner and lifestyle writer based in Mexico City. She lives for the dopamine hit that comes directly after booking a plane ticket, exploring local markets, practicing yoga and munching on fresh tortillas. Sign up to receive her Sunday Love Letters to your inbox, peruse her blog, or follow her on Instagram.

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