(HARLINGEN, Texas) – From serving as president of the Texas State Technical College Student Government Association to being president and chief executive officer of her own coffee and food catering business, Café Canasto, Johanna Lozano has come a long way.
Lozano recently catered the SGA Open House for TSTC’s Spring 2019 Welcome Week and provided specialty Colombian coffees, hot chocolate and cuisine to the delight of visitors, students, faculty and staff.
“It feels so surreal being back as a business owner,” said Lozano. “All my dreams are coming true, and I credit the education I got at TSTC for a large part of my accomplishments.”
The 33-year-old, with a background in bilingual education, came to the United States from Colombia and settled in Massachusetts in 2004.
With an entrepreneurial spirit and a dream, Lozano earned an associate degree in marketing and business analytics from Johnson & Wales University in 2012.
“A coffee shop is something I’ve always wanted,” said Lozano. “Management and business for me is a passion.”
Having grown up in Colombia on a coffee farm, opening a specialty coffee shop just made sense to Lozano.
When she and her husband relocated to Harlingen, Lozano enrolled in TSTC’s Business Management Technology program. She ended up getting a lot more than she bargained for.
“TSTC not only taught me business, but also leadership,” she said. “I was given so many opportunities to get involved on campus and in my community that it all laid a foundation for what I’m doing now.”
As a student at TSTC, Lozano served as secretary and president of the SGA; served in the TSTC Service Squad, earning a President’s Volunteer Service Award for more than 500 hours of community service; and served in the TSTC Leadership Academy and in Leadership Harlingen.
“I am so grateful for the support I continue to receive from TSTC,” she said. “All of these experiences allowed me to meet new people and make new friends. It has all opened so many doors for me.”
Lozano graduated from TSTC with an associate degree in 2015, and because of her leadership roles on campus, she had the opportunity to sit on the boards of Keep Harlingen Beautiful and the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation.
Shortly after graduating and saving up some money, Lozano took her education and leadership experience to begin the planning phase of opening Café Canasto with the help of the Women’s Business Center in Brownsville, the Small Business Administration in Harlingen, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Adopt a Startup program.
“It still feels like I’m dreaming,” said Lozano. “All of the research, planning, every business trip to Colombia, and blood, sweat and tears are beginning to pay off.”
Lozano said she is proud of her Colombian heritage, which is the reason her business is named Café Canasto.
“Canasto is the basket the coffee farmers put the coffee beans in when they’re picked. And since I’m importing my coffee from Colombia, I want my business to pay homage to their hard work,” said Lozano.
Lozano’s catering business is gaining popularity among folks in the Rio Grande Valley and beyond.
Besides the specialty coffees Lozano serves, she also has a menu of Colombian cuisine consisting of chicken and beef empanadas, chorizo and beef arepas, and desserts.
“We want to offer our customers more than just a menu — we want to offer them a Colombian experience,” said Lozano. “We want them to feel, if even just for a moment, like they’re in Colombia.”
Although starting a business hasn’t been without its challenges, Lozano said it is her support system that keeps her going.
“I have received so much support from my community, family and husband in this endeavor that even when I come upon challenges, they’re not so bad because of the people I have by my side,” said Lozano. “And I hope to continue catering at TSTC because I’m so proud that it’s my alma mater, and I hope that my story can help other students.”