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Q&A with Luiz Claudio Oliveira, owner and operator of Sambalatte Torrefazione

Luiz Claudio Oliveira was enjoying a successful career with Hyatt Hotels & Resorts in Puerto Rico, and visiting his wife, Sheila Donnelly, in Las Vegas as often as he could. But during his trips to town, he noticed it was lacking a decent coffee lounge.

There were plenty of Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf locations, but nowhere to sit down, relax and enjoy a cup or two of premium coffee. That led to Oliveira traveling throughout South America, Europe and the United States doing research on various concepts.

He then created a business plan and opened Sambalatte Torrefazione – Caffe Lounge and Espresso Bar in September 2010 in Boca Park. Oliveira describes Sambalatte as a “place to sip, savor and socialize.”

“While I was living in Puerto Rico, we were used to going to coffee bars,” Oliveira said. “We could sit down and have a coffee. We didn’t have a coffee shop here, just a place to relax.”

Oliveira said he started talking with Boca Park in 2005 about leasing space.

“I was very close to pulling the trigger, but a six-figure salary and benefits kept me from making a deal,” Oliveira said. “Also, the economy was really bad. Nobody was doing well.”

After 18 years, Oliveira lost his job in 2009 with Hyatt Hotels, giving him an opportunity during a mild economic recovery to open his own business.

“My concept was simple, it’s a place for people to come anytime,” he said. “It’s a very organic and relaxing space … with great customer service.”

How did you finance your business?

I tapped into my 401(k) for about half of what I needed. I then decided to sell some shares in the business to friends. I had one friend who asked me for more information. He said, “I will give you the other half.” The original estimate was $350,000 … but by opening day it was close to $500,000.

Is Sambalatte part of the outdoor plaza being developed between the Monte Carlo and New York-New York?

Yes. We are going to design a state-of-the-art coffee bar, with a coffee-roasting facility there. The roaster will be behind glass to provide a theatrical show for people to watch. We will also have a coffee lab for tasting. We expect to open by early March.

Any other expansion plans?

We want to be part of downtown Las Vegas. We like what’s going on and were very close to making a deal at the Soho Lofts. It didn’t work out because of a lack of parking. We are looking for space in the Arts District and expect another location by summer 2014.

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