Leiva Family Uses Guatemalan Roots to Run Sherwood Coffee Business
Geovanni Leiva, who grew up in Guatemala, is now raising three children with his wife, Alana, in central Arkansas: sons Elijah, 10, and Ethan, 7, and their 3-year-old baby, Leiva’s Coffee of Sherwood.
The business is not only a family affair for the Leivas of Arkansas, but also for their extended family in Guatemala, where part of the company’s Christian-inspired mission is improving the lives of those who have been in the coffee business for 60 years and their families and countrymen.
“Leiva’s Coffee feels like our little baby; we’re still just a start-up,” 37-year-old Geovanni said recently at the Capital Hotel during an interview with Alana, also 37 — over coffee, of course.
The product was a natural choice for Geovanni.
“I started drinking watered-down coffee when I was 18 months old,” he said, opening a narrative that still makes him emotional every time he tells it.
After spending nearly half his life in his native Guatemala, Geovanni came to Arkansas for an education at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Pulaski Technical College. His experience of getting any higher education, much less studying abroad, was groundbreaking in his family.
“My parents wanted me to get an education even though they knew it would require me leaving home,” Geovanni said. “Too few people from my country get educations.”
Once Geovanni got to Arkansas, another family tradition, Bible study, led to romantic discovery.
He was leading a Bible session when a 19-year-old Sherwood girl came in, looking forward to a lunch and a bit of conversation with fellow Christians. Getting to know the handsome group leader was an added bonus, she said.
“I was studying speech pathology at the time but soon switched my major to Spanish,” she said, to gentle teasing from her husband that maybe it was a subject she could get help on while writing term papers. Maybe her helper could even be a new sweetheart. Whatever the reason, their partnership was set, they married and the rest is family history.
Geovanni worked as a computer programmer as he and Alana began their version of the American dream. They bought a home in Sherwood to be close to Alana’s family. The warmth of kinship was the opposite of Geovanni’s early loneliness in Arkansas.
“I remember crying myself to sleep every night for the first six months after I arrived in America,” Geovanni said.
There was no Skype then, phone calls were expensive and frequent trips home were simply out of the question. He was grateful for his Arkansas sponsors, Garvin and Sally Abernathy of Bryant, but he had never been so far from his loved ones.
Now, after a couple of decades in Arkansas later, the Arkansas Leivas and their Guatemalan relatives share regular meals together using Skype — in between shuttling children to the Montesorri school in North Little Rock where Alana teaches Spanish. Family members traveled between the two countries a few times a year.
“Everything gets louder as the children grow older and as the family grows,” Geovanni said.
They were happy, yet something was missing.
The Perfect Blend
Geovanni loved America but grew wistful for his childhood in Guatemala, so he looked for a way to link his two lives. He’d grown up working in the coffee fields of his grandfather, Ezequiel Leiva, 3,300 feet up in the hills of Guatemala. One of his tasks was carrying 150-pound bags of coffee beans. It “was not my favorite part,” he said.
Geovanni’s family now imports 35,000 pounds a year of coffee beans from his extended family’s Guatemalan farm, named La Esperanza, which translates to “The Hope.” The Leivas supply businesses and individual customers including The Capital Hotel itself.
Back in Guatemala, Geovanni’s home village has grown exponentially because “now there are jobs,” he said. A portion of the price for each pound of coffee goes to church missions, partially through the Summit Church in North Little Rock. Geovanni’s relatives in Guatemala grow the coffee, harvest the beans and help run a school in Jocanai, Guatamala with more than 30 students. The Arkansas Leivas roast, package and distribute the coffee.
“Not many companies grow, roast, package, import and export their product,” Geovanni said. “We’re unique in the industry. We had to do it in little baby steps, and we’ll keep doing it that way.”
The first step was operating the fledgling business out of Alana’s laundry room. Then the kitchen. “Alana didn’t like that,” Geovanni laughed. So the business moved to the garage. Now Leiva Coffee boasts a warehouse in North Little Rock. No matter how large the business becomes, it will always be a means to an end.
“We are so fortunate to be in America,” Geovanni said. “We believe in grace. We know all we have is from God. It’s because of God’s work, not because of what we do. So doing good is the most precious thing we can do.”
And the family continues to grow. Remember Garvin Abernathy, Geovanni’s sponsor? He now serves as Leiva’s Coffee’s accountant.
“He calls me boss. I call him Mr. Abernathy. He is one of us,” Geovanni said.