Eliodora ‘Josefina’ Yanguas Perez opened Harvard Square’s first European-style café

There are currently at least 20 cafés in Cambridge that serve espresso beverages. There was exactly one in 1959. In that year, Josefina Yanguas, a Spanish immigrant, opened Café Pamplona on Bow Street.

On November 29, 1916, Eliodora “Josefina” Yanguas Perez was born in Pamplona, Spain. His occupation was tailor. Beginning at the age of 10 when her mother passed away, she endured many adversities in her early years. She helped raise her three younger siblings and did so with such loving kindness that her brother, Gabriel, said she was more like a mother to him than a sister.

During the bloody Spanish Civil War, which began when Yanguas was 20 years old, she lost many close friends. The war culminated in the rise to power of the repressive dictator Francisco Franco. As a seamstress, Yanguas eked out a meager living, dejected and with few prospects for the future. She desired to start a new life elsewhere. Finally, in 1948, family friends assisted her in obtaining employment with Amado Alonso, a Navarra-born professor of linguistics at Harvard. Yanguas traveled to Boston via cargo ship, carrying one small suitcase. She was responsible for providing child care and general household assistance for the Alonso family. The children of Alonso adored Yanguas and maintained contact with her for many years.

In the United States, Yanguas missed relaxing in cafés with friends as she had in Spain, and she yearned to open a café in Cambridge modeled after those in Europe. In 1958, with the assistance of her friends, she realized her dream. She purchased a three-story wooden building at 12 Bow Street, Harvard Square, for $23,000. Yanguas renovated the top floor to serve as her residence, installing taller kitchen cabinets and counters (less than 5 feet). Her café was located in the basement. She may have imported the first espresso machine used commercially in Cambridge. Café Pamplona, named after her cherished hometown, opened for business in 1959. Customers delightedly consumed the then-revolutionary espresso, cappuccino, and mocha beverages that Yanguas brewed from freshly ground beans.

A Harvard Crimson reporter noted, shortly after the café’s opening, that it was unusual for reasons other than serving espresso: Instead of being dim and smoky, Café Pamplona was airy and uncluttered (despite being underground). In the Spanish style, Yanguas had whitewashed the stucco walls and covered the floor with black and white tiles. Yanguas provided ample distance between tables to preserve customers’ privacy and reduce noise levels. In pleasant weather, customers could sip coffee and eat pastries, and later soups, salads, and sandwiches, on the restaurant’s outdoor seating area, which was a feature unique for the time.

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