DENVER — In many Denver neighborhoods, there’s a delicate balance underway between old communities and new growth, and at Prodigy Coffee Shop at East 40th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, that balance can be found in a cup.
“I love coffee shops and there’s nothing like this around,” Emilia Cano said.
As someone who grew up in the neighborhood, Cano was excited to see a new business replace an old, vacant auto shop.
For operations manager Jeffrey Knott, the excitement was about the larger location.
“Elyria Swansea, Clayton and Park Hill all meet right in that intersection right there,” Knott said. “So it’s really exciting to be at the center of all of those communities.”
But the addition of a coffee shop wasn’t as hotly anticipated by some others in the community.
“There’s a lot of issues in the this neighborhood as far as people who wouldn’t necessarily accept this in the neighborhood,” Cano said.
Knott said the founders of Prodigy were intent on proving they weren’t coming in to take over or gentrify the neighborhood.
“We made it clear from Day 1 that we want to be a part of this community,” Knott said. “Not just dropping a coffee shop in the middle of it.”
They followed through on that promise by focusing their nonprofit on training and employing at-risk teens and young adults, most of whom hail from the community they serve.
“It made me look at coffee different,” said 17-year-old Robert Abeyta, who joined Prodigy as an apprentice when it opened last weekend.
Abeyta was among 17 teens and young adults who took a two-week training course and he’s still grateful to be one of eight who were hired.
“Just hard to find a decent job, being under 18, especially in the area,” Abeyta said. “It makes it a lot easier considering I don’t have a car or anything like that.”
“This is their coffee shop,” Knott said. “We’re here to set them up for success.”
Cano saod her apprenticeship is a perfect fit as she works through school at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
“I want to be a business entrepreneur so I want to run, potentially, my own coffee shop,” Cano said. “That’s what I had thought about.”
In the meantime, she is just happy to help her old neighborhood strike a balance here.
“Come and do it, learn and become part of something more than just a job,” Cano said. “The community is broken right now and I think this is a way to bring that community together.”
Prodigy isn’t just employing locals, it also sells local items. It brews Allegro Coffee, which is roasted nearby and it sells baked goods, which are made a couple blocks away.
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