Spanish for ‘fire’
Tony and Renee Colon are partners in business and marriage
Despite holding the title of head barista/owner at Fuego Coffee Roasters downtown for less than a year, Tony Colon has already emerged as something of a local legend. From the stellar reviews of his consistently excellent roasting, brewing, and service to his success at competitive latte art throw downs; Colon has developed a reputation in the coffee industry. He’s also managed to stay involved with hot-button social issues affecting the enterprise he owns with wife, Renee—issues such as fair trade and organic products. He is good at his craft, and he is good to his community.
A butterfly tattoo to replace the wedding ring he’s always afraid of losing is visible on Colon’s finger as he “throws” a fern design called a rosetta into the foam of an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe latte. Colon profiles the drink for his customers as he pours. “You’re going to taste straight blueberries with a hint of lemon,” he says. These flavors have been drawn out of the brew with careful and skillful preparation—a care and skill that coffee lovers and connoisseurs from as far away as Israel and Japan have come to Fuego to experience.
Renee beams as she watches her husband work. She knows Colon’s success as an artisan only scratches the surface of his heroism. In fact, the couple’s happily ever after might not have been possible if he had not remained by her side through their tragic past.
The high school sweethearts were married in 2007, right after Renee’s graduation from Roberts Wesleyan College. Five months after their happy day, while visiting Renee’s parents near Potsdam, N.Y., the couple was hit head-on by a driver who crossed the centerline. While Colon suffered only painful bruising, Renee was in serious condition.
“I had a broken ankle, two broken knees, a broken femur, shattered pelvis, broken elbow, broken vertebrae, orbital fractures, cheek fractures, skull fractures, and traumatic brain injury,” she says. The extent of her injuries meant six months of rehab and therapy at University Hospital in Syracuse.
As long and hard as the fight toward recovery was for Renee, Colon was fighting a battle of his own.The trauma had severely altered the mental state of the woman he loved, and he was finding it hard to adjust. “Before the accident, I was timid, quiet, and totally not cool with talking to strangers,” Renee says. “When I woke up after the crash, I had no inhibitions, and I couldn’t stop talking. Now I only have a few inhibitions. Very few.”
“It sounds terrible,” Colon adds, “But I felt like my wife died in that car accident. I was still in love with her, but I had to learn to fall in love with this new person.” As painful as it was to say goodbye to the old Renee, Colon let go of the past and embraced a new future with his recovering bride. “God and I just kind of wrestled it out,” he says. In the summer of 2013, the couple embarked on a new adventure with Fuego Coffee, opening it to the public during the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
“I’m not a businessman,” Colon says. “I just love coffee. I’m only good at sales because I’ve never had a hard time making other people excited about something that I’m excited about.”
That’s where Renee adds her expertise. Her business degree has proven invaluable to their endeavor. Together, the team provides the perfect blend of know-how to make the venture a stunning sellout.
“It’s literally unbelievable where we are now,” says Renee. When she turns around to steam milk for a latte, another butterfly tattooed on the back of Renee’s neck is visible beneath the locks of her high-fashion asymmetrical haircut. “It means rebirth,” she says. “I was reborn after the accident, which is funny because that’s what my name means, too.”
Tony now accepts—embraces, even— the duo’s new life. “You know, it took us a while to get here, but it’s all about the journey,” he says. “Follow your dreams, follow your heart, and let God do the rest.”
J.C. Meyer-Crosby is a freelance writer and photographer living in North Chili.