Journeys to Success - Roberto Torres & Blind Tiger Cafe

Posted By: Jennie Kroeger Journeys to Success,

Roberto Torres 
President, Black & Denim Apparel Company and Blind Tiger Café
Connect Class 8
West Central Region
Lifetime Member

After the 2008 recession, Roberto Torres knew he needed to try something different. 

“I wanted to figure out how to remove myself from the equation and work for myself. I had already worked in public accounting for over five years and I thought it was time.” Inspired by the community of a speakeasy (or “blind tiger”), Torres began Blind Tiger Coffee Roasters nine years ago with a small café in Ybor City, Tampa that welcomed unconventional flavors, ideas and people from every background.

The company has since grown to seven stores across the Tampa Bay area, serving an array of coffees as well as breakfast and lunch. But like most companies, the path to success was not always smooth.

“It was ridiculously hard,” said Torres. “Discipline and tenacity are the only reasons we succeeded in creating a company that is built to last.” Through this experience, Torres learned that “in order to be successful, you need to have grit. Curious conversation (15 minutes a day should do it), self-reflection (how different is your company from a year ago?), and action (without action, there is no progress)” are all key factors.

Like many companies, Blind Tiger felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The food and beverage industry had to undergo a transformation in order to adapt, and Blind Tiger was no exception. “The pandemic changed the rules of how we consume,” said Torres. “It reduced our consumer experience to that of an ATM.” Despite these new challenges, Torres and his team pivoted and persevered. “We did not lay off any employees; we brought them back and remodeled all our stores. We implemented kitchens in all our cafés and increased our offerings. We did a few commercials and were able to expand our menu in terms of merchandise and drinks.”

Since its inception, Blind Tiger Café has sold over three million beverages and was recently voted Tampa Bay’s Best Coffee Shop. They were also a runner-up for Best Coffee in the City of Tampa in 2023 and nominated for Small Business of the Year by the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce. Florida State University, Torres’ alma mater, has also recognized the company in the #5 spot on its annual Seminole 100 list, which celebrates the 100 fastest-growing FSU alumni-owned or alumni-led businesses.

Behind every successful company is a successful leader, and Torres is no exception. He was named among Florida Trend’s 500 Influentials in Florida in the hospitality/tourism category this past year. “[This] was a pretty significant moment in our journey,” he said. “I am humbled and honored.” Through his inclusion on this list, Torres believes Florida Trend also honors others in his life, including his customers. “With their support, we get an opportunity to influence three pillars: immigration, social justice and food insecurity. When everyone does good, our economy, our country and subsequently the world moves forward.”

As a Lifetime Member of Leadership Florida, Torres has found that connections are everywhere. Through the Tampa Bay Chamber’s Minority Empowerment Program—created by Edwin Narain (Connect Class 4) in 2021— Torres got “the opportunity to start from the bottom” with Blind Tiger Coffee Roasters. “Every time there is an opportunity to connect at the local, regional or state level with a member of Leadership Florida, it is a special moment.”

As for leadership lessons that have stuck with him, Torres recalls a session during his time in Connect Class 8 with Nat Glover, the only African-American sheriff elected in Florida in the 20th century. “When he spoke to us during our cohort, that was a pretty significant session. I keep a copy of the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. It gave me a tremendous sense of pride and joy in being a leader not only for my business but for my entire community.”

“If” by Rudyard Kipling:


If you can keep your head when all about you  

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,  

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;  

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:


If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;  

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;  

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;  

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:


If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,  

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,  

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,  

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,  

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!