December Foodie: Pia Urban Cafe’s Maria Cartagena

A former Lilly manager with eastside connections blends coffee and caring at Pia Urban Cafe & Market.

Maria Cartagena has no culinary background, no dreams of intricately plated dishes with artisanal this and that. Instead, she aspires to serve her neighbors. After volunteering for years with eastside organizations like Shepherd Community Center and Outreach Indiana on job training and growth initiatives, she decided the best way to make an impact was to provide jobs. In April, she launched Pia Urban Cafe & Market on East Washington Street.

Her engineering degree, MBA, and 10 years at Eli Lilly and Company prepared her for the preliminary phase: business plan, site readiness, paperwork galore. But once the doors opened, her education really began. “It’s amazing to me how much there is to learn, even though the operation is so small,” she says.

“I want to help people find the confidence to get back into the workplace.”

For the coffee and food menu, Cartagena drew from her Puerto Rican heritage. Coffee beans arrive directly from Puerto Rico and are roasted locally. The sandwich choices have plenty of regional influences, including her personal favorite, the Medianoche: roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, sweet pickles, and mustard on sweet Cuban bread.

But look behind the counter for the truest sign of Cartagena’s mission: Her team includes graduates of the Wheeler Mission residential program. “I want to help people find the confidence to get back into the workplace,” Cartagena says. “And my goal is to continue to collaborate, network, and grow the program to make a difference in the lives of the women who come from those tough environments.” 

Bonus: Maria’s recipe for The Aldrich Boy

Maria’s Favorite Things