This story was originally published on cfnmd.org.
Milagros Escuela is the owner of MamaArepas, along with her husband, Fidel Lozada. They have worked tirelessly to bring Venezuelan Arepas to every dining table in South Florida since 2015. Made out of corn dough, Arepa is a typical food in several Latin American countries. It is different in each region and is very important in the traditional Venezuelan cuisine.
Milagros and Fidel’s journey started at home, making arepas for their family and friends and getting requests for more. As they saw the demand and the business opportunity, they contacted the State of Florida. They wanted to understand the requirements to operate a fully compliant food manufacturing business. They also set out to properly formulate each of their arepa products (corn, cheese, plantain). All this, to ensure the quality and safety and to consistently deliver the great taste their followers expect.
As they grew a steady clientele, they moved the production to a shared commercial kitchen. They rented this for six hours every day. Soon, MamaArepas started to sell better at brick-and-mortar locations like Sedano’s, Broward Meat & Fish Stores, Bravo Supermarket, and other meat stores. The demand became so high the company needed a commercial kitchen of its own. This would help increase its production and have capacity for faster growth.
Growing Joys and Pains
As Milagros and Fidel secured a bigger space of their own in Hialeah, the company’s overhead increased as well. So did the need for capital to initiate their market expansion outside of South Florida. They’d also need equipment to produce more arepas in less time with the flexibility to innovate new products.
MamaArepas needed a loan. That is when Milagros and Fidel learned about the Community Fund of North Miami Dade (CFNMD). They connected through another non-profit organization helping them expand their market. They applied for funding with CFNMD. Through this process, they realized the importance of having all business documentation up to date. They also had to be ready to have the business fully analyzed and understood, in order to get funding approval.
With the loan proceeds, MamaArepas bought new equipment. This effectively moved them from an artisanal to a more industrialized operation. They created two jobs and received the first order from a new distributor in the State of New York. The company has also updated and improved the labels and introduced new products. Finally, they implemented a sales strategy to bring the Venezuelan arepa to other communities around the country. Their long-term goal is to export to other countries.
Tips for Cooking Up Your Business Growth
Milagros has some advice for other entrepreneurs starting their business or newly arrived in the United States.
Be persistent, have a clear goal, our goals cannot change in this country, one must focus to achieve the desired goal. There will be obstacles for the entrepreneur, but it is not impossible. What you want to achieve, you can if you just move forward with the idea of attaining your goal.
For the entrepreneurs looking for funding for their business, Milagros advises to keep all the documentation up-to-date and organized. This way, when they request funding from a lending institution, “they can show that they are doing things correctly and in a clear, honest and transparent way” through their bank statements, company licenses, tax returns, financial records and other documents.