A global pandemic. A national lockdown. Businesses of all types were shut down including mom and pop shops, with the possibility of never being able to recover from the COVID-19 repercussions. Tres Leches Cafe, a local coffee shop located on 1714 W. Van Buren St., became a victim of the consequences, especially on the brink of a new location.

Tres Leches Café is a coffee shop that broke ground in the fall of 2014 by founder ET Rivera. It was seen as an alternative to mainstream coffee shops by adding a twist of Mexican heritage, which is incorporated within their decorations and drinks.

Edwin Pelcastre, 24, says his favorite drink is the Cafe Horchata.

“I really like how they put an altar during the Day of the Dead to show respect to people that have passed away,” Pelcastre said. The Phoenix New Times calls it a “Mexican Starbucks of your dreams.”

It wasn’t until the company decided to open a new location on the intersection of Sunland and Central Avenue, on April 23, that it was forced to adjust to a new norm amid the chaos of the pandemic.

Magaly Saenz, a manager at Tres Leches Cafe, says that the new opening came at a “perfect time.”

“The opening of this location came at a perfect time as we now had access to a drive-through space versus a dine-in only space. The only challenges came with staffing the new facility as many employees and the potential staff was rightfully concerned about the risk of contracting COVID. It took us longer than we anticipated,” Saenz said.

The Central location was shut down for six weeks, and in the meantime the staff was scrambling to find a way to stay afloat in the time of uncertainty.

We had to reinvest in a lot of inventory, restart all of our orders from vendors which involved paying all of our past-due invoices, invest in training and rehire since a lot of our staff chose to stay home and collect unemployment. Some didn’t have secure childcare and others lived with at-risk family members and didn’t want to risk exposing them to COVID,” Saenz said.

“That being said, we invested in masks, proper sanitizing and cleaning supplies. Our staff was required to get tested prior to us opening, wear masks or face shields throughout shifts. We also installed plexiglass and antibacterial sanitizer at all windows. We had staff sign a COVID commitment document stating they would avoid large social gatherings and wear a mask in public.”

The company was able to get help from local grants, but an additional struggle that is now dealing with is the expansion of the light rail.

“The Valley Metro promised signage and financial assistance to small businesses along the corridor but we have yet to see any signs or grants come our way specifically from them. We have been lucky to receive other forms of financial assistance (EIDL, PPP, Maricopa Grant) but with our expenses to operate (rent, taxes, utilities, payroll) being the same, these funds have quickly dwindled.

“The rise in COVID during our typical flu season now has customers weary of going into walk-in establishments once again and we’re seeing a slow-down in business from that at our other location as well,” Saenz said.

The Van Buren location is open from 6-1 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 8-8 p.m. on Saturday and Sundays. The drive through location on 5602 S. Central Ave, is open from 7-10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays with the exception of Tuesday which closes at 6 p.m., and 8-10 p.m. on weekends.