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Family-owned coffee company celebrates 100th year in business amid pandemic and shutdowns

TAMPA — Danilo Fernandez Jr. walks past photos of his great grandfather, grandfather, and father every day he enters the Tampa warehouse that is home to Naviera Coffee.

“This is our history, Naviera has been here for 100 years, but I only stand on the shoulders of our forefathers,” said Fernandez.

His great grandfather, Carlos Menendez, founded the company in 1921 after leaving Spain for a better life.

“He was a stowaway on a shipping line called Naviera, and he always said if he was going to do something and start his own business he would name it after the shipping lines that brought him to the U.S.,” said Fernandez.

Fernandez, now a fourth-generation owner, said he could have gone to school to be a doctor or lawyer, but coffee was in his blood.

“I’d get up at five in the morning and sneak into the kitchen getting ready for my father to take me to work with him and by noon I’d fall asleep on burlap bags,” said Fernandez.

In 1921 Naviera, then located in Ybor city, was producing 25 pounds a day, delivering door to door to the people of Tampa.

“I remember my grandmother saying she would deliver coffee with her father on a horse and buggy,” said Fernandez.

Today they are blending, roasted and packaging up to 21,000 pounds a day and have clients in 17 states.

“A hundred years is a milestone people say, I think it’s amazing,” said Fernandez. “We have customers that we’ve done business with for over 80 years.”

They’ve had employees, like Rafael Garcia, who have worked under all four generations of owners.

“My father taught me the coffee business, but Mr. Garcia taught me coffee,” said Fernandez.

Naviera’s history also includes several challenges along the way, but nothing quite like 2020, when a COVID-19 outbreak spread through the warehouse.

“Basically closed for two weeks in the early part of November, we do keep enough inventory on hand to hold us through, and thank God that all our customers, as well as our suppliers, understood,” said Fernandez.

He said it’s the perseverance and determination he learned from those who came before him, that really kept this business brewing, through a pandemic, into its 100th year.

“For my generation, this has been the hardest one, I’m sure something will come in the future, I just hope it’s for the next generation,” said Fernandez.

As part of their 100th anniversary, Naviera Coffee will soon start offering tours of their warehouse, as well as bringing back their original coffee recipe from 1921, and unveiling a new commemorative packaging.

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