• Daniel Salazar

Monica Garrido - Black Pearl Café

Updated: Apr 22

Monica Garrido, owner of the Black Pearl Café, creates a unique atmosphere for everyone at 413 E. 2nd Street. She has run this business since 2018.

Her coffee shop was inspired by experiences with her parents, children, and small businesses she loved throughout her life.

Growing up, Monica moved around a lot with her parents, Monica Sr. and Cezar Garrido, the owners of Chicharo's Mexican Grill. (Article about them linked here!) They moved from Mexico to Colorado to Kansas, then finally to Muscatine.

“I think it helped us become a little more cultured and open-minded to a lot of things,” Monica said.

Even though it took time to move, Monica grew to like moving around, understanding that, “you make little connections in little spots in the world that only you have,” she said.

Monica was not alone in the adventure, being the oldest, with four younger sisters and one brother.

Her life has been filled with family, food, and business. Monica has witnessed the good, the bad, and the most difficult parts of owning a business, upfront and personal. Her parents opened their first restaurant in a taco truck.

“Business owners are hardly ever home, and you kind of grow that appreciation for your family,” said Monica. “When my parents came here and had the taco truck and businesses I didn't just watch, I decided now that I’m older I am going to help.”

Working with her parents gave Monica a different perspective on what a hard-working person is and a deeper appreciation for small businesses, in the sense that the owners put a lot of heart and soul into it. She says that while constructive criticism is amazing and helpful, people do not need to be negative and should try to help make things better. For her, it hurts when she sees other small businesses unfairly compared or attacked.

“I wish more people understood what it takes for a family to own a small business. You’re not always home, you’re not always going out or with your family, it’s a struggle,” Monica said.

She is glad her parents operated a restaurant in Colorado because it helped her realize the need for a team-based environment. Monica has always been amazed at her parent’s ability to memorize recipes and teach them to other cooks, as well as focusing on customer service.

“I've seen my mom, who is bilingual, learn to do the accounting, finances, marketing, and websites as someone who was not educated here in the States,” said Monica. “In Mexico, her education was based on dental hygiene. She went from dental hygienist to business owner. As she is learning, I am still learning.”

Her family may provide a hint as to why she decided to open her own business. For Monica, she says every coffee shop has its “unique vibe.” When she was in college, she remembers a coffee shop she loved that had a “chill and laid back vibe,” with employees playing everything from jazz to techno music.

She loved spending time there and wanted Muscatine to have something like that, so she decided to open a shop herself. She emphasizes that she did not start to be competition, but to offer variety to Muscatine.

“The Black Pearl is a place where people can come and be themselves,” said Monica. “Once you enter you can be laid back and relaxed.”

The decorations you see in the shop are no mistake. As a huge environmentalist and lover of nature, the more she can reuse and repurpose, the better. The unique tables made of old doors are from a house that was torn down when the Jefferson parking lot was built. Instead of buying something new, Monica used repurposed wood from someone’s house, barn, or even garage.

The drinks are the main attraction of Black Pearl. Monica wanted the drinks to be unique, and many of the syrups are recipes of her own, rather than purchased in bulk. She wanted to avoid a chain feel. The menu is a classic coffee shop menu with a dash of love. Black Pearl has energy drinks inspired by the Dutch Brothers Coffee chain, which Monica loved and wanted to bring to Muscatine.

Monica’s signature drink is the “three broomsticks.” It's a Harry Potter-inspired butterbeer latte, because she is a huge bookworm and Harry Potter fan.

The name "Black Pearl” is not from Pirates of the Caribbean, even though she loves that movie. The true story is a lot better than that.

Monica travels often with her kids. While exploring in North Carolina, they found an oyster. Once they cracked it open they found a black pearl. Her son Brennen, who was about four years old at the time, put it in a turtle necklace and gave it to her as a gift to always remember the trip they took. She still has it to this day. A black pearl is unique and sticks out from the ordinary, something that Monica wanted her shop to represent.

Sticking with the description of having Black Pearl be a place where people can be themselves, Monica is no stranger to hosting people and events that others might not. Black Pearl has hosted events, meetings, and a handful of candidates who ran for President of the United States.

While a tough decision for some, Monica has no issue with sharing why.

“Black Pearl represents everything from being yourself to becoming who you want to be, to allow yourself to be a completely different person,” Monica said. “It seemed kind of right and perfect to allow these men and women to come in here and voice their political opinions on things as they are running for president.”

The events brought people together, and gave people a chance to hear different things. For her, it’s not so much a political stance: “It is about allowing a human being to express to the public who they are and who they would like to be,” said Monica.

The decision encompasses the idea of coming here and being who you want to be, whether it's a bookworm, a journalist, or you just want to draw on the shop walls. She does this because the world is filled with a lot of status quo. She says wants to break that because, “we don’t all need to be a Kardashian.” Rather, we need to be reminded that being originally you is important.

As a female, mother, and Latina business owner, she tries to use that to her advantage. With an accidental all-female staff she accepts the fact that they are a minority of some sort, but stand strong and tall, and it works.

Her two children have a front-row seat to her business. According to Monica, one hates it and one loves it, and this sentiment switches between the two. When they are there she says they like it because they are treated to an assortment of free things, but it can ring a somber tone when mommy has to work over the weekend. She is always sure, however, to take a few days off to spend with her most loved possessions.

“I think they like it overall because it gives them some sense of empowerment to be outspoken and see what hard work really looks like,” said Monica.

Overall, she loves being a mom, even when she became a single mother about five years ago. She says you have to learn to embrace it, and sees her family as more of a team because they went through a tough time together, which helped inspire Black Pearl.

Going with her chill and relaxed vibe, she appreciates the flexibility she can offer to her staff who might have a football game to go to and also herself knowing there is more to life than just work, something she doesn't think a corporate business would understand.

Outside the shop, you can find her reading, being a couch potato, binging TV shows like the Vampire Diaries, being with her kids, or still falling asleep on her mother's couch when she visits.

Monica hopes that Black Pearl can survive here in Muscatine and hopes people will try something different every now and then. At the end of the day, Muscatine is home and will always be that way in her heart.

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