Inside the bright blue Mexican cafe and underneath the pink “Order here” sign, a black-and-white photo might catch one's eye.
It shows there’s a history behind this cafe, which opened last month on 4th Avenue in Moline.
The photo, which is labeled Veracruz, Mexico, shows a restaurant with the same name — the original Coya’s — and a woman, who went by Coya, standing in front of the eatery. To the left of the woman, if one squints a little, a baby is visible.
“And that’s me,” says Blanca Moran, pointing to the photo.
Moran, 43, keeps the photo near the front counter to remember her mother, Cordelia "Coya" Limon Alor, and remember why she opened this cafe.
When the small building at 4320 4th Ave, Moline, became available, owner Nirmal Singh thought of Moran.
“He knew me and how I cooked,” Moran, who owns a Moline-based tax services business, said. “At first, I told him no. I didn’t want to do a restaurant. I thought, ‘That’s my past.’”
Singh, who also owns the neighboring JNJ Food & Liquor, said he knew a restaurant by Moran would be a “good fit” for the vacant spot. So, he kept calling her.
Before saying “no” again, Moran thought about her mother. She thought about her mother having to give up her restaurants, including Coya’s, when the family moved from Mexico to Moline in 1979 because her father got a job at Deere and Co. Moran was 3 years old at the time.
Moran’s mother, who later was a single parent, worked in kitchens at area Mexican eateries and the money she earned went toward putting her two kids through college. Her mom also teamed up with her cousin, Angel Moran, to open a tiny restaurant on 4th Avenue in 1993. They called it Jalapeño’s, making it the first in the popular Quad-City franchise.
“My mom did everything for me,” Moran said. “I’ve been a single mom, too, and it’s hard. My mom never complained. She always found a way to provide for us.”
Moran decided she wanted to honor her mother, who passed away two years ago, by opening an authentic Mexican-style cafe and naming it after her.
“I didn’t want to name it after a pepper or a place in Mexico,” she said. “I wanted the name to have meaning.”
She opened Coya’s Cafe on Jan. 20 at — here’s the kicker — the same spot as the original Jalapeño’s, where her mother had served customers 25 years year earlier.
Moran says her cafe is a not just another Mexican restaurant.
“It’s a different concept,” she said. “You’re not just going to get hard shelled tacos and enchiladas. It’s more authentic and there are more options.”
Her menu offers a selection of “street food” and Mexican-style breakfast and coffees that she often sees being sold at stands and markets during her yearly visits to Mexico.
In the morning, Coya’s offers fresh-squeezed orange juice and smoothies and coffee brewed with beans from Chiapas, Mexico.
Food options include chilaquiles, breakfast burritos and tortas (as well as burritos and tortas for lunch and dinner), homemade soups, Mexi-yogurt, corn or flour quesadillas, and, yes, tacos. There also are freshly-made pieces of flan and cake and bowls of pudding for dessert.
“It’s more like what your grandmother in Mexico would cook for you,” she said.
Coya’s Cafe, which is decorated with items she picked up on a recent trip to Mexico, is modeled after fonditas, which are cozy, family-run diners or cafes, common in Moran’s hometown of Puebla.
“I wanted to bring a taste of Mexico here,” she said. “It’s not a big restaurant. It’s meant to be homey.”
The cafe, which has a capacity for 40 people and is less than 1,000 square feet, certainly has the feel of family.
Her husband, Alvaro, helped remodel the building, which hadn’t served as a restaurant in 15 years.
Moran’s 11-year-old son, Pablo, helped created a list of Mexican frappes, or iced coffees, with flavors such as cajeta, the Spanish word for caramel, and bombon, the Spanish word for marshmallow. There’s also a frappe made with Gansitos, the Mexican snack cake similar to a Twinkie.
On a recent morning, her daughter Daisy, who is 21, stopped by for breakfast before heading back to school at University of Illinois.
And then, there’s Moran, who says she is trying to follow in her mother’s footsteps. You could also count the steps of her grandmother, who owned a restaurant in Mexico called Las Tres María’s. Many of Moran’s recipes are passed down from both of them.
“My mom taught me everything I know about cooking,” she said. “Her thing wasn’t so much making money. It made her happy when people liked her food.”
As it turns out, that’s what makes Moran happy, too.
“People have come here because they know my mom and myself,” she said. “And they notice I’m selling things that they can’t find anywhere else.”
After nearly a month in business, Moran is glad she listened to her mother, for all those years, when she said, "Never give up."
“I always tell my kids that, too. Anything you want in life, just go for it,” she said. “If I tell them that, I should do that, too.”