At first, David Favela was just hoping to spend more time with his family. Six years later, he’s connecting an entire culture.
Favela’s Border X Brewing, located in the heart of San Diego’s Barrio Logan district, is one of approximately 200 breweries in San Diego but boasts the proud distinction as the city’s first Latino-owned brewery. A first-generation immigrant from Mexico, Favela (History, ’92) grew up in Escondido—about 30 minutes away—and said the brewery’s roots came from a desire to connect more regularly with relatives.
“We’re all professionals, we’re all busy doing things,” said Favela, the youngest of seven siblings. “We would get together for family dinners and holidays, and I was looking to do a business with them as a way to see them more often.”
Sampling a homemade brew made by his nephew at a family gathering, the idea struck. He applied for a license, acquired some “very basic equipment,” and the family began brewing beer one keg at a time. With the San Diego beer market already flush with European-influenced brews, Favela said using different ingredients was very intentional.
“We wanted to make beer that represents who we are as a Latino culture,” Favela said. “We said, ‘Let’s brew beer that’s inspired by Mexican flavors in our unique palate, the things that we like.’”
After that same nephew produced a keg of a ruby red ale—what would become Border X’s jamaica-infused “Blood Saison”—he realized he’d just sipped the family business’s first offering.
“I tried it, and it was like an epiphany,” Favela recalled. “‘We said, ‘Let’s not stop. Let’s never look back. This is who we are going to be, these are the beers we’re going to make.’”
This boom-or-bust attitude led to a menu full of inspired flavors, including a pepino sour and horchata golden stout. Soon, Favela began scouting spots for a tasting room location and was drawn to the historically Latino Barrio Logan district, a neighborhood that included an art gallery, “a guy selling tacos on the corner,” and the ghosts of an infamously dangerous history.
“New businesses hadn’t opened in that area for decades,” he said. “It had a reputation of being a very scary place—and it was a well-earned reputation.”
Undeterred by decades of disregard and dilapidation, Favela signed a six-month lease to open a tasting room in 2013. Latino culture—otherwise largely ignored in the craft beer industry—took center stage.
Mexican bingo games, Caribbean jazz nights, punk mariachi shows, and other culturally focused events add cultural color to the brewery atmosphere while further highlighting Favela’s intention to bring his community together and celebrate it with a wider audience. Border X recently opened a second venue in Bell, just south of Los Angeles.
“Many Latino customers who come to our tasting room, they look around, they see the Chicano artwork, they see the names of the beer and the traditional ingredients, they see the bartenders, they hear the music,” Favela said. “It all has this effect on people and they say, ‘I feel like you created this space for me, as a Latino.’”
That elusive feeling of connection has always been important to Favela, beginning as a kindergartener as his school’s only Latino and Spanish-speaking student. By second grade, Favela’s disconnection grew, and after testing poorly on a learning development test, he started getting bused to a special education school an hour away from his home.
“I really hated it,” he recalled. “The only way I could escape it was going to the library.”
While hiding among the quiet rows, Favela found himself “just bored enough” to start reaching for some of the books—and by piecing together illustrations, text, and context, he taught himself to read. His self-education continued at a furious pace throughout elementary school, junior high, and high school—despite being told he wasn’t a strong student.
“In high school I’d taken a lot of vocationally oriented classes, at the behest of my counselor, who suggested that Mexicans were very good with their hands,” Favela recalled. “And they said I probably didn’t need to take the PSAT, because that’s for the kids who go to college.”
Lacking direction after high school, Favela flunked out of Palomar College but wasn’t ready to give up. At the suggestion of an older brother attending Chico State, he visited one summer.
Swimming at One Mile Recreation Area, strolling downtown, and walking the tree-lined campus, Favela found the connection he’d been searching for.
“My mind was blown. I got this clear picture of what college could be—this is where I wanted to be,” he said. “I really looked at this as an opportunity to transform myself, with purpose and clarity around who I wanted to become.”
Shortly after enrolling, an English professor instructed his class to write an essay about a memory. He thought about meeting his grandfather in Mexico for the first time, working at his ranch, riding horses, and working with cattle.
Feeling that cross-generational link to a beloved family member, Favela’s words, memories, sights, and sounds poured effortlessly onto the page—despite having been told and believing his entire academic life that he wasn’t a strong writer.
Turning it in, he expected another poor grade. A few days later, his teacher told the class she wanted to share a “beautiful essay,” and asked its author—Favela—to read it aloud.
That unexpected affirmation furthered his changing trajectory.
“When you take the thing you’re most fearful of, the thing you think you’re terrible at, and you demonstrate that you’re almost gifted at it, it’s transformative at a fundamental level,” he said. “Then your mind goes to, ‘Who’s been telling me that I’m not good at this?’ And it was myself.”
With renewed confidence, Favela began to excel, particularly in economics and history. And he became more involved, working in the University’s study skills center and leading workshops for fraternities and sororities—an experience he said at the time was terrifying.
“I probably did a terrible job, but the confidence that that English teacher gave me showed me I could still get better,” he said. “Even if I’m not that good, I can get better.”
Building community was—and still is—Favela’s motivation.
That mantra of improvement became a thread in his adult life.
After graduation from Chico State and earning his MBA from UC San Diego, Favela began what would become a 22-year career at Hewlett-Packard. First building on his talents in economic development, he worked to establish a “Silicon Valley of Mexico” in Guadalajara as part of the company’s international management team. He would also eventually lead HP’s education solutions team, which took him around the globe—from China, Spain, and Switzerland to Russia, Singapore, and Brazil—speaking directly to government officials about how to improve their educational systems.
As he looks across the spacious, open-air tasting room in Barrio Logan, he cannot help but be awed at how the tasting room’s success jumpstarted a neighborhood renaissance. Today, the neighborhood is dynamic and full of life—Latin music floats from windows and doors of cars and businesses, murals add color and vibrancy, and authentic Mexican cuisine complements multiple art galleries.
“Five years ago, this was an abandoned, scary, Latino neighborhood where no one in their right minds would want to be. It’s impossible to now see what’s going on here and not be humbled and blown away,” he said. “It’s an incredible thing for me to see and be a part of.”
Sometimes, true potential lies just beneath the surface. You just need someone to tap it.