Semilla Café + Studio Creates Community
Semilla Café + Studio Co-Owners Aimee Chambers and Elijah Hilliman combined their passion for coffee and creating a community space. The two spent years forming a friendship, which began when Elijah was a barista at Story and Soil. Over coffee and conversation, they discovered their similar goals, discussed future possibilities for opening their own café, and decided to go for it.
The Hartford community, including MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price, is glad they did. Soon after the Hartford Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting, she stopped by the café to chat with Aimee about the café’s startup journey.
NAN PRICE: How did you become aware of the space on Main Street?
AIMEE CHAMBERS: In our own capacities, Elijah and I were both aware of the San Juan Center, which has been a staple in the North End for several decades. It was Elijah’s idea to approach them about space. Our first conversation with Executive Director Fernando Betancourt was more than three years ago.
When we started on this journey, Elijah and I both said we wanted to be in or proximal to the North End because we both grew up there. It was important to us to create a space like this and feel that we’re serving not only the city as a whole, but our direct community.
We felt this space made sense from the standpoint of wanting to add some service to this block, which already has a lot of vibrancy. Also, part of the development of this concept in this space was about going back to our mission of highlighting all the wonderful things that have come out of this city and from people of color in this city.
In particular, we wanted to do it here. We recognize the sensitives and concerns about gentrification and new services and new people using space that don’t necessarily serve the people who have been living here. We wanted to make sure that the space feels welcome to people who are here on this block and who have been in the North End as they see development encroaching in that direction.
NAN: Semilla has created more than just café. It’s like a community hub.
AIMEE: We use the tagline, “a neighborhood living room.” The café aspect of it is integral to that. At the same time, the goal is to fill out the space with programming in a way that allows people to feel like they can come and use the space and just be themselves. We’ve already had a lot of people reach out to us about wanting to use the space for things like artists talks, gallery openings, movie nights, and open mic nights. In the future, we hope the space enables all of those types of uses.
I’m just glad that we’re able to do what we’re doing here and grateful for people wanting to utilize and interact with the space and being supportive of the way we’re trying to go about operating the space. I’m also grateful for resources like the Hartford Chamber of Commerce. Director of Small Business Development Shannon Mumley has wonderful energy. She’s a great resource and has also been supportive of our initiative and of the business. When I mentioned to Shannon that part of our goal is to bring visibility to makers who are people of color operating in and around the Hartford area, she knew of a whole list of vendors. She said: Let’s fill the space. That’s a great example of the community’s support of the business and of this space—and of Hartford.