Visit Palabras Bilingual Bookstore, 906 West Roosevelt Street, on any weekend morning, and you will be quickly intoxicated by the smell of pastries fresh out of the oven by Por Vida, the bakery inside the bookstore. In the backyard, Hakirí Coffee, an indigenous-owned coffee bus owned by two Ho-Chunk sisters, offers coffee and a gathering place for the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and LGTBQ communities.
“We wanted to bring some equilibrium and representation to the Phoenix coffee scene,” says Catherine Zingg, who owns the bus with her sister Elizabeth.
The Ho-Chunk Nation currently has about 7,850 members and is located in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Another federally recognized Ho-Chunk tribe is the Winnebago (Oinepegi) tribe in Nebraska. The Zinggs are originally from Wisconsin, but grew up in Arizona.
“There is a great synergy [with the bookstore] because we share the same ideals and try to center BIPOC voices,” says Cat. “The world of books, academia, and coffee tend to be predominantly white. We want to create a safe place for our friends, our relatives, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. Regardless of your identity, we are able to understand it at some level.”
The bus is painted beige with the word “Hakirí” in blue and green above the service window, and blue flowers below. In Ho-Chunk, Hakirí means returning to a place you haven’t been in a while.
If you get close to the front or back door, you’ll get a glimpse of the penny floor the sisters have created to honor their heritage. Copper is one of the elements that Ho-Chunk people often use, especially in making jewelry. They also use specific floral patterns. The center of the penny floor has an applique ribbon of beaded flowers.
“We really wanted to use our nation’s signature applique patterns on our floor,” says Liz, who created the patterns from clay before filling them with beads.
Benches rest under canopies in the backyard. Patrons can order their coffee at the bus window and relax while waiting for their orders. It’s the perfect time to people-watch, catch up with a friend, or visit with Reader, Cat’s dog.
The idea of a coffee endeavor sprouted in September 2020 and became a reality in June 2021 after the sisters converted a small school bus into a food truck. The new business venture gave the sisters the opportunity to practice speaking their native language. Since the number of Ho-Chunk speakers is declining, language preservation has become essential for the culture.
“Language is everything,” says Cat.
Liz says the sisters’ goal was to learn the language and share it when possible.
“We want to use the bus as a space to practice it and have the people say it back to us,” she says.
Often, they use Ho-Chunk words when posting on Instagram.
The Zinggs also make it a point to collaborate with other indigenous-owned businesses as often as possible. Maple syrup comes from Passamaquoddy Maple in Maine, choke cherries from Red Lake Nation, and the coffee comes from Ogahpah Coffee Roasters in Missouri.
“We tried 14 different coffees before choosing this one,” says Liz.
The coffee is fruity and smooth. Neither the maple or the wojapi lattes needed additional sugar. The Zinggs make their own wojapi – a sauce of blueberries, strawberries, chokecherry, and orange blossom honey – and squash (wičąwą́) syrup for squash lattes.
The light roast or Zha-we [beaver] coffee emits notes of pomegranate, apricot, plum, cherry, and bergamot tea. The medium roast, or Ma-Ko-Sha, used in their lattes has milk chocolate, caramel, and stone fruit flavors (which is why it pairs so well with the wojapi and maple flavors).
Currently, Hakirí Coffee is available at Palabras every weekend.