By Ryan Cornell
Four years ago, Abraham Agosto lost everything.
Financial troubles forced him to close his Richmond sports bar. His car, a Lincoln Continental, was taken away. His wife divorced and left him after a year of marriage. Their two children followed her.
It was a rough time for Agosto, but he slogged through. He focused on the future. He learned to forget the past.
"By the time I hit 40 years old, I was a grandfather already," Agosto said. "So I got to experience what normally a person would experience in his 60s or 70s.
"I even had a friend tell me at that point, 'I believe you have luck because I know it's bad luck.'"
Despite the turbulence, you won't find him without a smile. The owner of Prava Café, Agosto is just the latest owner in a seemingly revolving door of businesses at the Strasburg location that most recently housed the Strasburg Café, which is still written on the window facing Massanutten Street.
Prava, an acronym formed from Puerto Rico And Virginia, opened on May 4. Since then, Agosto said that approximately 20 to 30 customers have stopped by on his busiest day.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Agosto first immigrated to the U.S. in 1986. He joined the U.S. Army for three years and attended Christopher Newport University, earning his bachelor's degree in liberal arts with a dual major in International Business Management and Latin American Studies.
Coffee is apparently a big deal back at home in Puerto Rico. "Ever since I was a baby, I drank coffee in the morning," he said. "I was probably like 2 years old.
"If you haven't had your coffee, you haven't had your breakfast yet."
When he first learned about Starbucks and the different types of fancy drinks it sold, Agosto thought the chain was ruining the true coffee taste. He did some research and learned there was an art involved. Now, one of Prava Café's specialties is a café con leche, made from sugar, evaporated milk and Cuban espresso beans.
Agosto first arrived in Strasburg on a moped. He was looking to fill a job opening at International Auto Components when something caught his eye. It was the property available for rent.
"I had to tell him to slow down and speak slower," Strasburg Emporium manager Shelby Collins said about her first interaction with the café owner. "He's very excitable. And after talking to him, I saw how enthusiastic he was about opening the place. And he's a people person and he's the right person for it."
Collins helped the new business by giving him the first month of rent free. She said one reason the other businesses failed is because they didn't keep their doors open.
"If you have hours on your door, then you need to be open those hours," Collins said. "There was a big issue with that."
Open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., the café has four part-time employees. One of the employees, Bridget Donahoe, was serving coffee and working behind the cash register during the Tuesday lunch rush.
"It's a bit unconventional," Donahoe said. "But it's fun because he's pretty relaxed as long as we take care of the customers and things get done. He's very generous."
Half of the equipment in the cafe is from the former Strasburg Café. The other half, Agosto said, comes from Schenck Foods Co., the company that supplies Prava with food and 100 percent Arabica coffee three times a week.
Donnie Barton, sales representative of Schenck Foods, said the company also supplies local businesses such as Hi Neighbor Restaurant, Fox's Pizza and Cristina's Café.
As always, Agosto has his mind set on the future. He said his ultimate goal is for the café to roast its own beans when he buys a $4,500 roaster this year. He wants to have Prava sell its own coffee by the pound. Eventually, he plans to expand to other locations.
"I can't be Starbucks and I can't be Subway," he said. "So I'll combine the two concepts with my own twist."
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org