1988 Walton grad turns entrepreneur

Alfonso Mendez came to John Brown University 30 years ago as a member of the Walton Program’s first class of students. As a successful Walton alumnus, he now provides encouragement for graduating seniors.

“You’ll be fine as long as you have God in front of you,” senior Ethel Ilias recalled Mendez telling Walton students at a meeting in October.

Mendez’s success was not instant. Once Mendez graduated from JBU in 1988, he returned to his homeland in Costa Rica and started working as an assistant at a coffee company.

“I started with the only job I could find at that time,” he recalled.

Jobs were hard to find when Mendez graduated, because most people in Costa Rica had never heard about either the Walton program or John Brown University.

“It was hard to go back and be in the first class to start talking to potential employees,” he said.

Five years after being hired with an assistant position at a coffee company, Mendez became the general manager.

“I’ve worked with coffee ever since,” Mendez said.

In 1995 Mendez started Interam Coffee Inc. Mendez said he saw that clients needed an expert to tell them how to get the coffee they wanted.

“We provide them with flavor profiles of coffee, and they get to pick whatever in their opinion is best,” explained Mendez.

Interam Coffee now provides all the coffee for the Walmart brand, Sam’s Choice.

“It’s actually coffee from Costa Rica and Sumatra but I sell it at Walmart,” he said.

JBU’s Walton Program director Ronald Johnson remembered when Sam Walton told Mendez’s class that, if they ever developed a product, they should consider Walmart a client.

Mendez acknowledged that this experience greatly influenced him.

“I took his word, and, 20 years later, we started a contract with Walmart. That dream that he had and that we shared with him became true,” Mendez said.

Dean of the Soderquist Business Center Joe Walenciak was not surprised at Mendez’ success. As Mendez’s former statistics professor, Walenciak saw a lot of potential in him.

“He seemed to be able to see opportunities easily,” said Walenciak.

This ability to see opportunities could pay off for graduating Waltons.

“Even now, he is talking about putting together networks of people that could potentially be sources of employment for students going back home,” said Walenciak.

Mendez recently became the fifth Walton graduate to be part of JBU’s board of trustees.

“These are people who have really fulfilled not just the requirements in the letter of the law. They really fulfilled the heart of Sam and Helen Walton,” Johnson said of Walton trustees.

Walton senior Ethel Ilias said it’s nice to see in Mendez what she could look like in 30 years.

One of the most difficult things Ilias anticipates after graduating is the drastic change out from her current routine life. Currently, she is used to always seeing her JBU friends, working for Johnson and having a monthly stipend. But, when she returns to Honduras, she plans to work a job in her field, live with her parents, and save up for graduate school in Honduras.

However, she has found encouragement in Mendez’s words of advice to graduating Walton seniors:

“Leave everything to God. He will be the one who leads you.”