Growing up in a once underserved and now gentrified part of San Antonio inspired small business owners Tatu and Emily Herrera to use their coffeehouses as a tool to give back to their community. 

As children, the Herreras were each raised by their grandparents on the South Side of San Antonio.

When it came to basic life skills, the couple say they, like others they knew, weren’t educated on topics like money management, car maintenance or how to file taxes, as these are subjects rarely taught in school. 

After opening two Folklores Coffeehouses, the first on East Grayson in Government Hill, the second on Bustillos Drive near Mission County Park, the Herreras knew they wanted to make a difference in their communities.

Every month, the couple host a free life skills class they call “Es Tu Vida,” Spanish for “It’s Your Life,” at the Bustillos Drive location. The classes bring in local professionals to teach the kinds of basic skills the Herreras said they had to learn the hard way, on their own.

In the third class of the year Saturday, Natalie and Rudy Salas of Salas Realty Group discussed the intricacies of buying and selling a home. Five people gathered to learn about the lending process and how to sell a home. Mostly everyone in attendance engaged by taking notes, raised their hands to ask questions and nodded as they listened on. 

During the class, the Salas’ talked about the current market, the application process, tips to qualify and what lenders look for when reviewing potential borrowers. As she and her husband taught the small group, Natalie Salas said, “I really wish they would teach this stuff in school.”

Jesse Rodriguez, who is from the South Side, heard about the class on Facebook and attended with his girlfriend and her daughter.

“A lot of the information after high school and after college is something you would learn from a mentor, someone who is experienced in real life. Not everybody has those mentors to look up to. That’s why I think these classes are great, just for the overall community,” he said. 

In the future, Rodriguez said he’d like the community to learn about other topics, like cryptocurrencies. 

Desire to host these classes arose from “coming from nothing,” said Tatu Herrera. When he and his wife first opened the first location of the coffeehouse, he said, they knew their mission.

“It’s real important because it gives [people] the tools to do well in life,” he said. “If we can do our part, that’s even better. That’s the whole point of starting a business in our community is to give them the tools to push forward.”

Emily Herrera said educating her community about real estate is especially important because many families who have lived on the South Side for generations now find themselves unable to pay rising property taxes and are at risk of being forced out of their homes, Herrera said.

“Going down Roosevelt [Avenue] is a perfect example,” she said. “We have houses going up that don’t match the neighborhood or the aesthetics. We have new apartments going up…”

Emily Herrera said she hopes the basic life skills classes will encourage locals to stay and invest in their community. 

The “Es Tu Vida” classes, however, are just one way the Herreras give back.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Herreras were recognized by the Alamo Area Council of Governments with the 2020 COVID-19 Response and Recovery Award for handing out bags of food to the elderly on the South Side. The couple went door to door and gave neighbors food to add to their pantry.

The Herreras also seek to support others doing good works in the neighborhood.

For example, in January, a woman knitted a blanket for a relative who had cancer and wanted to do the same for other cancer patients. When the Herreras heard, they provided money to purchase fabric for more blankets. They also supported a woman providing dog and cat food for the pets of senior citizens.

“A lot of times, their pets are all they have,” said Tatu Herrera of neighborhood seniors, many of whom live on fixed incomes and sometimes have difficulty affording pet food.

With the recent mass shooting of 19 children and two teachers that has the community mourning in Uvalde, Folklores Coffee House has joined other locally-owned coffee shops in San Antonio in collecting stuffed animals to deliver to Uvalde.

Folklores Coffeehouse also hosts a weekly pop-up shop, completely free of charge to local business owners who want to sell their merchandise.

“That’s what our business is based on,” said Tatu Herrera.

“Always do small things with great love,” added Emily Herrera. 

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Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.