MEXICO CITY - “We say small here, not tall,” reminds a notice, written in black letters on the wall of this new chain of Mexican coffee shops. If coffee isn’t enough, there is also chocolate: hot, cold or with chili pepper that leaves consumers with a slightly burning throat. 

It’s been around for barely two years, but the Cielito Querido Café is fighting for a market that is very popular in Mexico, a market that was first cracked by Starbucks.

“When there is market that is dominated by such a famous competitor, the rest are like a flock of sheep, and the theory is that if you want to enter the market, you should emulate the dominant player as much as possible,” explains Diego Landa, the marketing director for Cielito Querido Café. Under this premise, the cafe has tried to develop a concept that builds on the modern Mexican esthetic, a paradoxically very vintage esthetic.

The company hired two the of country’s most successful designers, Ignacio Cadena and Hector Esrawe, and their work won the coffee chain the Quorum prize in design. According to marketing expert Paula Selene de Anda, the chain is completely focused on two marketing segments: those aged 35 and under and those aged 50 and older. The two groups both tend to dislike the atmosphere of other cafes around.

Authentic Mexicana

The chain’s name comes from two popular Mexican songs that were written at the end of the 19th century. The decoration takes inspiration from the past as well, with mosaic decorations that resemble the Art Deco style of the 1920s. “We are selling the Mexican experience of having a coffee,” explains Diego Landa. He insisted that we try the Mexican corn bread, a product that it is hard to eat in a cafe. 

“They have been differentiating their products by using pewter and decorated ceramics to serve products, as well as using phrases from popular culture that are both funny and very Mexican,” says the economist and marketing specialist Edna Alatorre.

It’s also clear that the way it is differentiating itself could turn out to be the chain’s main limitation, says Selene de Anda. “What will happen when everyone has their own pewter cup or they have the complete collection of ceramics?” she asks. For now, the chain has only been exposed to a limited market in the city, and it is not clear how it will perform when it tries to expand into the countryside or into areas where most of the customers are foreign tourists.

“We have had thousands of requests to expand into Monterrey, Oaxaca or Guadalajara,” Landa says, while also admitting the need to consolidate the product and the distribution. “We are not going to do franchises, we operate all of the cafes ourselves and we want to keep it that way.” That also applies to the idea of expanding internationally. “We would love to expand in the United States, and we think that this concept would be a hit in places like Los Angeles, Miami or New York.”

But before doing so, the experts that we interviewed said that Cielito Querido should consolidate its market within Mexico and show that it is a sustainable business, not just a passing fad. Other Mexican chains have tried unsuccessfully to create a lasting concept.

“At this point we have only seen a very basic social media presence from them, and no mass advertising at all,” said Edna Alatorre.