Under the sweltering heat of the south Texas sun, the word “oasis” has come to mean more than cool water and shade on a hot day. At farmers markets across San Antonio, delightful beverages made with fresh-squeezed, locally sourced lemons, limes, grapefruit, and passion fruit quench a thirst like nothing else can.
Maxine Cofino (B.A., ’10) and Desiree Munoz opened The Lemon Girls’ first stand in March 2021 during the pandemic, and it was an immediate success. “We found farmers markets to be the perfect venue,” said Cofino. “As the popularity of farmers markets grew during the pandemic because they are safe, held outside, and deemed ‘essential,’ we were able to get established and keep growing.”
Mother Knows Best
Cofino credits her mother with instilling in her a love of food and the confidence to own a business. Born in Puerto Rico, Cofino grew up surrounded by international cuisine. “My mom loved taking me to new restaurants and trying new dishes. I had eaten food from all over the world by the time I was 12 years old. She is the reason I developed my palate.”
In 2002, the family moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Cofino attended Air Academy High School. She wanted to go on to college but didn’t know where. One summer, she attended the National Hispanic Institute’s Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session, which Colorado State University has sponsored and hosted on the Fort Collins campus for more than 35 years. At the weeklong conference, students engage in a mock legislative process and judicial hearings to examine the challenges faced in Hispanic communities.
Following the conference, Cofino was awarded an NHI college scholarship. She speaks highly of the influence Mary Ontiveros (B.S., ’73; M.Ed., ’79), former vice president for diversity, and Varo Maldonado, former conference coordinator and associate director in CSU’s Office of Admissions, had on her decision to attend Colorado State. “Mary was a big part of recruiting students to those programs,” said Cofino, a first-generation student. “I wouldn’t have gone to CSU without her and Varo’s involvement with the NHI.”
The television show The West Wing inspired Cofino to study political science and she joined the Pi Lambda Chi Latina Sorority, Inc., where she regularly helped with the cooking and participated in community volunteer work. She was most impacted by the Food Bank for Larimer County. “Many people just don’t have access to food. Seeing the level of food insecurity in a place like Fort Collins really affected me and the way I view farm production and distribution.”
After graduation, Cofino joined the CSU Alumni Association because she wanted to stay connected. “It’s always been a part of my life to be proud of where I went to school.” She planned to become a political speechwriter but said, “I couldn’t find a political candidate I felt strongly enough about to move halfway across the country and live in a bus and write speeches for.”
Instead, Cofino worked a variety of jobs in Colorado and California before eventually moving back to Puerto Rico where she met and married her first wife, who was in the military. The couple was later stationed at Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas.
A Fresh Idea
Although her marriage ended in 2019, it planted Cofino in Texas where she met Munoz, both of whom were working mundane office jobs at the time. Munoz, a San Antonio native, encouraged Cofino to combine her passion for food with her entrepreneurial ideas, one of which was to open a fresh-squeezed lemonade business. It took about six months to figure out the recipes for drinks and sauces, determine sources for local produce, purchase a stand, and get all the permits, but it all came together in March 2021.
In Texas, the long growing season permits farmers markets to operate year-round. “Texas is so big that pretty much everything we need is grown all over the state. You have more northern crops like figs, peaches, and apples, and in more temperate climates you have more citrus, and in more tropical regions, you have bananas and sugar cane.”
Charting a New Future
On March 20, 2022, Cofino and Munoz married in a ceremony officiated by U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro, a second-generation Mexican American who was born and raised in San Antonio and represents the 20th District of Texas. The weather was beautiful, and the couple couldn’t be happier sharing life and a business together.
“It’s been a whirlwind and we love it!” Cofino said. They recently expanded to two more area farmers markets and are now looking for a brick-and-mortar location. “We’re limited in what we can make at our stand because we don’t have electricity,” Cofino said. “We want to expand our menu and include cocktails and beer,” adding “I didn’t go to school in Fort Collins and not become a beer connoisseur.”
Living in Texas has not diminished Cofino’s Ram pride one bit. “I always stop people wearing Colorado State shirts and ask them how they’re related. With all my stories and enthusiasm, I’ve made my wife a Rams fan, too. She joined the Alumni Association, and I got her all the gear.”
“I think it’s come full circle,” said Cofino, reflecting on her journey thus far. “I used to be the one cooking a lot for the sorority girls; now I’m making drinks for everybody.”