From the DR to running his own coffee company

Hector Castillo-Carvajal, owner of Don Carvajal Cafe
Photo Courtesy Esther Rodríguez.

Hector Castillo-Carvajal didn’t grow up wealthy or have parents that worked on Wall Street, but today the 23-year-old has his own coffee business.

Castillo-Carvajal was born in a small village in the Dominican Republic and at 8-years-old immigrated to Fordham.

He comes from a family of farmers in the DR, but has exceeded expectations by being the first in his family to attend college.

Growing up in a poor part of the Bronx encouraged him to find success and in April 2019, he launched Don Carvajal Café, in honor of his grandfather, which is currently in 40 stores, three supermarkets and one coffee shop.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “This has always been my dream.” Castillo-Carvajal recalled how when he was a kid he would sell mangos that fell off trees.

While he originally wanted to be a baseball player or a cop, he became focused on business in high school. He created a brand called Dream Chasers and sold hats, T-shirts and patches and candy on the train.

But, he was skipping school and his mom Estabania sent him to the DR for six months to work on the farm. While picking crops in the blazing sun he learned how important it was to get a good education .

“If it wasn’t for that experience I don’t know where I would be right now,” he explained. “It instilled a sense of hunger for success.”

Upon returning, he had a new perspective on life. One day while selling candy, he ran into a woman named Minga Tavares, who asked him if he ever thought about college.

They chatted and eventually she offered him an internship at her insurance agency.

“I loved it because as a kid from an impoverished background from a disenfranchised community I was in midtown in a suit,” he said. “I didn’t even know how to tie a tie.”

He kept focused, graduated with honors and eventually attended the University of Rochester for business marketing. He slowly began to learn the trade and in the winter of 2018 everything changed while doing an internship at his brother Yony Feliz Carvajal’s company.

Castillo-Carvajal began a business relationship with the vendor who supplied the office coffee. He suggested a business-marketing plan to create an organic, natural coffee. The vendor said no thanks.

However, he was not discouraged.

“I thought it was going somewhere and I loved the vision,” he recalled.

He continued to learn more in school and began selling the coffee from his dorm. As the business began to boom, in August 2019 he took a year off from school.

Eventually, he opened a coffee bean roasting location in Long Island City and an administrative office in Hunts Point. Today, he lives in Allerton and imports his raw java beans from Columbia, Haiti and the DR.

Looking back, he counts his blessings and he’s grateful for everything. He credits his mom with a lot of his success and if she hadn’t sent him to the DR who knows where he would be today.

“When you come from a disenfranchised community it’s easy to fall through the cracks,” he said.