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Naviera Coffee Mills leaving Ybor City after nearly a century there

To Ybor City regulars, the aroma of roasting coffee beans from Naviera Coffee Mills defines the historic district as much as the cigars still hand-rolled here.

But while the coffee still will be sold, up and down the East Coast as well as in California and Chicago, the local aroma soon will disappear.

The company founded in Ybor City in 1921 has outgrown its 6,000-square-foot building at 2012 E Seventh Ave. So, in May, Naviera's operations — the roasting, grinding, packaging and shipping — will leave Ybor City after nearly a century for a 24,000-square-foot center at 5401 E Henry Ave. in East Tampa.

Fourth-generation Naviera owner Danilo Fernandez Jr. said the new home will provide triple the grinding and packaging space of the current location and seven times the coffee bean storage.

The family-operated El Molino Gourmet Coffee Shop adjoining the Seventh Avenue mill closed Dec. 31 and will not reopen in the new location.

"This is good and bad," Fernandez, 49, said. "It's good because even after nearly a century we continue to expand. It's bad because we couldn't find anything in Ybor that suited us and Ybor has always been our home."

Naviera is the third oldest business in Ybor City. The Columbia Restaurant opened in 1905 and La Segunda Bakery in 1915.

Still, Fernandez plans on keeping the Seventh Ave building his family owns, and once operations are running smoothly at the new plant he hopes to re-open the coffee shop and roast a few beans at the mill.

When will that be?

"I don't want to do too many things at once," Fernandez said. "Whenever we are settled in at the new place. We would always like to have a presence in Ybor. It's where we started. Ybor has been good to us."

That's welcome news for Tony LaColla, an Ybor City resident and vice-chairman of the Ybor City Development Corp.

"That smell of their coffee is a part of the fabric of Ybor," LaColla said. "People who live and work here are used to going there for their morning and afternoon coffee. It needs to stay here in some way."

Naviera Coffee Mills was established by Carlos Menendez, a Spanish immigrant who moved to Ybor City when it was cigar capital of the world.

"He was a lousy cigar maker," Fernandez said, chuckling at his great-grandfather's business history. "But he was good at making coffee."

The company was named for the shipping line that took Menendez to Florida as a stowaway. Look closely at the coffee's package and you'll see a depiction of the boat.

Naviera's first location was on 22nd Street in Ybor City. It had a half-pound roaster and a counter, Fernandez said. Some customers picked up their beans there. Others had it delivered via bike by his great grandfather.

As the business grew, it moved to a larger building on a lot at Seventh Avenue and 18th Street where people now park for La Tropicana Cafe.

In 1967, Naviera took over the space on 7th Ave, Ybor City's main drag, and in 1983, Fernandez' mother Millie Fernandez retired from teaching and opened El Molino Coffee Shop there.

"She cried when the shop closed," Fernandez said. "Even if she hasn't gone to bed in Ybor for years, it's been her home. That's why we want to come back."

Fernandez promised to roast enough there again so that the Naviera aroma once again tickles the nostrils of Ybor City.

"I live a block away from where Naviera is now. It's going to be strange to walk outside and not smell their coffee" LaColla said. "I'll miss it."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] or (813) 226-3320. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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