It started informally.
In 2005, Carlos Jimenez, a sourcing manager on Starbucks equipment and facilities team who grew up in Puerto Rico, got together with a coworker to speak Spanish and enjoy a coffee break.
“I used to work closely with a partner in Store Development, and we would get together from time to time for coffee in the afternoon. One time, another partner (employee) from my team came by to say hello. We got to talking about the tradition of afternoon coffee in Latin cultures. We said, ‘Hey, let’s get together and do it again.’”
Soon, partners from all over Starbucks headquarters in Seattle were joining Carlos’ coffee break. Isabel Montes, who manages Partner Resources for the Starbucks in Latin America, joined in these early days.
“I am from Colombia, and came to the United Stated 14 years ago, speaking very little English. I fell in love with Starbucks – the music, the smiles, the coffee,” she said. “Once I started working for Starbucks, I was invited to one of these coffee breaks. It was so comforting, and it gave me a sense of belonging. I felt I had this space where I could speak Spanish and we could talk about our favorite salsa song, and beyond. ”
The group became a partner connection group and took the name Hora del Café – which means “coffee time” in Spanish – to signify the group’s beginnings. In the summer of 2006, they held their launch event, inviting all partners at Starbucks headquarters to learn more about Hispanic culture. They offered Spanish classes for partners in the building and taught salsa dancing, dominoes and the Mexican game lotería, similar to bingo.
By 2007, Hora del Café became a Starbucks Partner Network with Gabe Wiborg from Starbucks R&D team as its president, a business resource group that offers partners the opportunity to build community and develop professionally.
Today, Hora del Café counts more than 400 partners as members, with chapters in Seattle, Dallas/Houston and Miami, and engages with partners around the world through LinkedIn and Facebook. They work to make a positive impact outside the company by serving on boards and working with nonprofit organizations that reach out to Hispanic communities. They even created their own Hora del Café blend of coffee for recruiting and network events.
Starbucks executive assistant Ada Braswell, offered an example of how their network has advised the company.
“Flan is an important part of Hispanic culinary culture. It’s often the centerpiece of special occasions and holidays. Two years ago, the Starbucks product team reached out to us to test a prototype for the new Caramel Flan Latte,” she said. “When we first tasted it, we said honestly ‘No, it doesn’t speak to us.’ They went back to drawing board, and when they came back to us, they got it right.”
In January 2013, customers embraced Caramel Flan Latte during its market test, and the beverage rolled out nationally the following winter.
This fall, Starbucks launched two new CelebrandoeGift Cards to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month September 15-October 15. Braswell and fellow Hora del Café member Julissa Betancourt collaborated with the Starbucks design studio and the digital Starbucks Card team to create the designs available on Starbucks® Mobile App and on the eGift page on Starbucks.com.
Betancourt said, “I’m so passionate about my culture, and the fact I get to work on something like this is extraordinary.”
Isabel Montes, in Miami, shared her perspective about Hora del Café’s journey over the past nine years.
“It’s very gratifying to see the evolution of Hora del Café from a group that originally was just about having coffee and a talk, to something so relevant to our community,” she said. “We are just starting, and we can do so much with the power of who we are as a company.”