When I walk up to Unlocked Coffee Roasters at Poe West, I am not expecting to find a love letter to Colombia. It’s billed as a specialty coffee shop and roastery, and that makes sense next to a small-batch chocolatier, a European-style brewery, and a gym founded by a former Clemson football player. But Unlocked is most definitely a love letter, too. The coffee is mostly Colombian. The pastries are Colombian. The artwork and mugs are sourced from Colombian artisans. The overwhelming hospitality is most definitely Colombian. Even the coffee roaster is from Colombia.
You can credit Andres Camargo and Rocío Salazar for that point of inflection. Unlocked’s husband and wife co-owners grew up in Colombia (the world’s largest producer of arabica coffee beans) before immigrating to the United States. “Everything in Colombia is about coffee,” says Salazar. “Every day you have coffee, every day you speak about coffee, and most relationships are built on coffee.” It’s so integral to Colombian identity that even the national soccer team is nicknamed “Los Cafeteros,” or “The Coffee Growers.”
But a career in coffee wasn’t a foregone conclusion for Camargo or Salazar. Camargo worked in insurance and graduated from USC Upstate’s business school before Unlocked, while Salazar has a marketing background and works in finance. During business school, Camargo realized that entrepreneurship was about more than just making a living for himself. “I understood that having a local business was a way to generate jobs for the community and be a part of the community, as well,” he says. “And during the process of going to school and working, coffee shops became a part of my life. It was just a perfect space to do anything.”
Those realizations melded with Camargo and Salazar’s love for their homeland and became the foundation for Unlocked. Camargo began educating himself about specialty coffee—growing, roasting, tasting, serving—with help from local importer Ally Coffee. “Anytime I do anything, I really want to do it well,” says Camargo. “I put myself on a level where I would be a professional at what I’m doing.”
Colombians haven’t historically had access to the best coffees their farmers produce. Europeans and Americans are willing to pay more for high-grade coffee, meaning Colombia’s best products have largely been promoted and interpreted by a specialty coffee industry not known for its diversity. There is a measure of righteousness in the fact that Camargo and Salazar serve Colombian coffee as Colombians—an “integrity of culture,” as Salazar puts it.
While Unlocked is Camargo and Salazar’s love letter to their homeland, it’s also an invitation to all of Greenville: come, make conversation, do business, have a date, study, or escape for a moment, and do it all over a cup of coffee. It is a welcome invitation, especially in these anxious, uncertain, and tumultuous times. Because if you can’t find refuge or relief over a cup of good coffee, what can you rely on?
Photography by Eli Warren. 556 Perry Ave, Ste B116; (864) 263-7695, unlockedcoffee.com