Napa Latino family making it happen at new restaurant La Cheve, started during pandemic
When Cinthya Cisneros opened her restaurant in Napa’s oldest building, she not only invited the public to celebrate its Mexican cuisine and beer, she welcomed her family.
In May 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic response, Cisneros, 30, opened La Cheve, a restaurant that also makes its own beer, in the Old Adobe.
La Cheve, which means “the beer” in Spanish, brings everyone on board. This includes Juana Cisneros, Cinthya’s mother, one of the two bakers on staff; and Felipe Bravo, who develops the beers with Cinthya and repairs in-house equipment. Angel Aguirre, Cinthya’s maternal uncle, is the head cook. Carlos Calderon, one of Cinthya’s nephews, is a member of the front of the house team.
“It's like a dream to be here working with my family. I can't believe it,” said Juana Cisneros.
Popular items include tacos al pastor, chilaquiles boozy pastries made with different liqueurs, cronuts in flavors like mango and champagne, and vegan and gluten-free pastries.
“We started realizing how hungry the community was for our cuisine when we began selling out of birria tacos before lunch. Now we’ve more than doubled the amount,” said Cisneros.
Birria is beef marinated in a sauce of vinegar, dried chiles and herbs, and then cooked in a broth.
From Michoacán to Napa, by way of Sacramento
Cisneros came to Napa at the age of 4, immigrating from La Piedad de Cabadas in Michoacán. She graduated from Vintage High School with an interest in chemistry. Yet she was concerned about funding.
“In high school, I took a lot of Advanced Placement classes. I wanted to have as many college credits as I could,” said Cisneros.
Fortunately, the Napa County Hispanic Network offered Cisneros scholarships. These scholarships supported her earning a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Sonoma State University.
Through college, Cisneros volunteered as a science tutor at Rancho Cotate High School, Vintage High School, and Napa High School. After graduation, she worked as a pathology assistant at the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office. Later, Cisneros changed her career path to become a chemistry teacher.
Cisneros earned a single subject teaching credential at Sacramento State University. She then joined the faculty at River City High School in west Sacramento.
“I loved the students, who were ethnically diverse and hard-working. They were making an effort to overcome obstacles, just as I was at their age. Yet I wanted to come back to Napa,” said Cisneros.
She did in 2018, leaving her teaching position and taking a part-time job in hospitality at Stone Brewing Company in Napa.
“I came to Stone because I knew I wanted to learn more about beer. Around 2013, I developed a passion for beer. I started learning how to brew and joined the Sacramento chapter of the Pink Boots Society, an organization that supports women in brewing. In addition, I took classes in brewing at UC Davis,” said Cisneros.
Cisneros spend her days off brewing her own beer with her father. The two engaged in contract brewing, developing their own recipes and having local facilities brew small batches for them. Cisneros also used her free time to look for spots for La Cheve.
That same year, Cisneros started working with a mentor, business adviser Carolynne Gamble of the Napa Sonoma Small Business Development Center.
“In 2018, Cinthya enrolled in NxLevel, an 11-week boot camp for entrepreneurs. NxLevel helps business owners develop strategic thinking and good writing skills,” said Gamble.
Gamble said Cisneros was her “rock star.”
“She had the passion, the purpose, and the follow-through. After she finished the program, she entered Napa Valley College’s business plan competition and won $1,500 in cash prize money. She started developing social media content, telling her story on Facebook and Instagram. This helped her attract customers before the restaurant opened,” said Gamble.
Preparation + patience = success
As Cisneros scouted out locations, she watched the revival of the Old Adobe, built in 1845 as the home of Californio settler Don Cayetano Juárez wife, María de Jesus Higuera. Justin Altamura, owner of the property on a prominent corner in Napa, started renovating the 1½-story former family home into a commercial property in 2017. He completed the project by 2019.