Max Pruna: from TCS to Forbes

“If there’s something that’s worth having in life, it’s perseverance and positivity. Those two things are what pushed our Mulita over the highest mountains.” – Max Pruna, TCS Class of ’91.

Adaptability has been a common theme throughout distinguished alumnus Max Pruna’s life. The question is, how did perseverance and positivity get Pruna’s name on a Forbes article?

Not many business people have had the experience that Pruna has gained throughout his life. After graduating from TCS in 1991, 18-year-old Pruna had his sights set on the future and had to face many choices. He started out as an engineering undergrad at EAFIT University in Medellin, but would soon realize that this wasn’t the path he was destined to take.

“At that time, Colombia did not have great economic possibilities. There was little reason for Andrea and I to stay there. We had to search elsewhere,” Pruna, said.

After choosing to leave Medellín to complete their studies, Pruna and his wife, fellow TCS alumnus Andrea Echavarría saw an opportunity to move to the US. They both decided to relocate to New England and attend Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). There, Echavarría began to study marketing, and Pruna pursued his goal of attaining a master’s degree in international business. 

“In this world, there are the people who are born entrepreneurs and people who become entrepreneurs,” Pruna, said.

By 2001 both graduated from their careers. Pruna worked in jobs relating to technological research while Andrea got a marketing job at a tech company which granted her permanent residency in the States. Pruna wouldn’t stay at his job for long and after a series of different ventures he decided to switch his focus to entrepreneurship. 

A few years went by and in 2008, amidst the most significant stock market crash in history, Pruna discovered a new business opportunity.

“Every crisis is an opportunity to grow,” Pruna said.

In the wake of the market crash, real estate was as devalued, and along with a friend, buying, remodeling, and reselling houses became their main project. Once they realized that coastal areas yielded the best profit, their business moved to a small seaside town in New Hampshire called Rye, where he and his family still live to this day.

Even though Pruna’s life as an entrepreneur had already taken its course, it was an invitation to a coffee lecture in 2015 that shifted the direction his life was heading in. The conference was given by George Howell, a pioneer in the U.S. Specialty Coffee world. It was he who was responsible for introducing Pruna to the coffee business.

“I always knew what the world said about Colombian coffee, but never had I tasted a tinto as sweet and memorable as the one I had that day,” Pruna said.

Howell introduced his special coffee from Finca La Esperanza, located in Huila, Colombia, and Pruna discovered his passion for Colombian coffee. This led to him creating an Instagram account, Roaster’s Craft, which showcased different coffee roasters from all over the world.

“This was the start of a very deep rabbit hole,” Pruna, said.

Pruna connected with the coffee world, and every time he visited Colombia, he would take the time to explore different coffee farms in southwestern Antioquia. This led him to meet David Molina, who owns Medellín-made specialty coffee roasting and marketing company El Laboratorio de Café. Soon, Molina became his mentor in the coffee world. Thanks to his guidance, Pruna decided to buy his first coffee toaster and sign up for roasting classes in the neighboring state of Vermont. Upon his return, Pruna was already thinking of ways he could further involve himself in the world of coffee.

“I was starting to get an idea of what I wanted to do, but it was all a slow process of trial and error,” Pruna, said.

Wanting to differentiate himself from other coffee-related folks, Pruna created a niche for himself through the untapped potential of Colombian coffee culture in the States. After settling on opening a coffee shop, Pruna looked for a name related not only to coffee growing and cultivating but also to his home country. He ended up deciding on “La Mula”, a reference to the mules that Colombian farmers use to transport the coffee beans. After legal issues with the name “La Mula,” Pruna finally decided on the more likable and welcoming name “La Mulita,” which was available for legal claim in both Colombia and the States. 

In September 2019, La Mulita found its home. Inside an old 1,000-square-foot garage, Pruna saw an opportunity to bring Colombian Coffee to New Hampshire. Using the knowledge he gained from working in real estate, he renovated the space into a cozy and homey environment. The shop’s honeymoon phase, however, couldn’t last very long. Only 6 months after La Mulita’s grand opening, a worldwide pandemic swept through everything we considered to be normal. It seemed like the globe stopped spinning, and this was no exception for Pruna. La Mulita had to temporarily close its doors.

“Of course, I feared La Mulita would collapse. Things got tough and everything seemed impossible,” Pruna, said.

In the crisis, however, he saw an opportunity. Pruna moved to the online business, and for the next months, La Mulita functioned through online deliveries. The first year passed, and through word of mouth, the coffee bar became popular with people all over Rye. A chain reaction of recommendations had been set off. 

In mid-2021, a reporter from Forbes magazine named Gary Stern dropped by the seaside town. After searching for coffee places nearby, La Mulita popped up on his screen with a 5-star rating. After a quick visit, Stern decided that La Mulita deserved an article of its own, and within 6 months, a review of the coffee bar that had once been only a dream in Pruna’s mind was on the home page of the coveted Forbes magazine.

“The Forbes article was the fruit of hard work. It gave us national exposure and we all consider it to be a great achievement,” Pruna, said.

With their hard-earned success, Pruna and his team plan on expanding the brand. Alongside a store expansion in Rye, he dreams of bringing his business back to his country, Colombia.

“That’s the dream, to be able to open La Mulita in Colombia, in Medellín to begin with, a bigger store here, and a location in Miami if things go right,” Pruna, said.