Starting a Business in Miami: A Road With Difficulties and Rewards for Cubans

Madeleydis Mejía, a Cuban entrepreneur who opened her own restaurant in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yessenia Zevallos, Miami | August 29, 2019 — “Starting a business in Miami isn’t easy. It requires a lot of sacrifice, effort, and patience because the road is long,” says Madeleydis Mejía as she rocks the carriage of her newborn baby. This Cuban arrived in Miami seven years ago to fulfill the dream of her life: to become a business owner.

“Behind every one of these walls there are many hours of insomnia, of tears, of hardships, but also of satisfaction and achievement,” says Mejía, 32, as she looks around her recently opened restaurant.

La Gozadera Pizzeria Restaurant, located on one side of Coral Way, an important avenue in the residential area in Miami, specializes in Italian food, but also has a creole menu that includes classic plates like congri rice and roast pork, in the purest Cuban style. continue reading

An entree at the restaurant.

“Nothing is impossible when you make an effort and have faith,” explains Mejía, also the owner of Trendy Extension Salon, a hair salon located a few meters from her restaurant.

Both businesses are run by Mejía’s family. Her husband, Juan Carlos Blanco, also Cuban, is the chef at the restaurant and her younger brother is in charge of logistics. Her mother and several friends also collaborate.

“I came to this country with nothing. From the beginning it’s been difficult because no bank lends you money if you arrived recently, so you have to start with your own savings,” she explains.

With different tones of gray, and a design exclusively created by Mejía and her family, La Gozadera is a restaurant with a Cuban stamp that is seen from the sunflowers used as decorations to the Latin music that invades every space of the place. A broad mural recreates the Havana capitol and several decorative motifs recall Cuba.

“I called it La Gozadera for the hit by the group Gente de Zona, of whom I’m a fan and friend,” explains Mejía. “The construction of the place was done by a family member. All together we were knocking down the walls of an old pharmacy that was in ruins to build the restaurant,” she adds.

“Now the most difficult thing is to maintain it,” says Mejía. “Having a restaurant in Miami isn’t like having an ice cream shop in Cuba. Here there is a lot of competition and we small businesses have to work very hard to survive,” she adds.

Eduardo Álvarez Rivet, another Cuban who has lived in Miami for seven years, has managed to open a beauty salon. Álvarez, born in Guanajay, started out on his journey as a stylist in Pinar del Rio. There, he says, was born his passion for hairdressing and the desire to get his family ahead.

“I started the Rivet Salon so that my mother’s surname would prevail,” says Álvarez, 44.

Rivet Salon specializes in offering various esthetic services like haircuts, coloring, and ironing, among others, and according to its owner the decoration of the place, full of elegant crystals, was completely his idea. The salon is in West Kendall, a comfortable residential zone located to the southwest of Miami.

Before opening his own business, Álvarez worked for 10 years as a hairdresser for an employer, first in Peru and then in Miami. “Opening a business requires a lot more effort and more time,” says the now business owner. Álvarez hasn’t taken any type of classes on how to manage a business but he mentions that everything he learned came from practice. “In Cuba I learned what it was to work since I was little and in Peru I learned how to treat the client, how to be an administrator and strategist,” he explains.

This entrepreneur left Cuba for Peru in 2007 to be able to improve economically and professionally. Later he decided to migrate to the United States because he saw more opportunity to open his business.

“I have clients who emigrated from Cuba and now I find them in the salon,” he says with pride. Álvarez compares his country of origin with the United States and says that in the south of Florida he has more possibilities to develop his business.

“Having a business in Cuba is very different from having a business in Miami,” says Álvarez as he explains the difficulties that he had on the Island to get products. Starting a business in Cuba is very difficult in face of the lack of supplies and the government bureaucracy, excessive if compared with the limited legal documents to open a business in Miami.

“The most important thing is that I have the possibility to find fulfillment in my profession and that is what gives me more desire to do it,” he says, referring to many immigrants who cannot work in the area in which they specialized.

The main difficulties for this hairdresser have been adapting to the culture and language of the country. Álvarez misses Cuba a lot, but he says that here is where he has more opportunities to better himself.

“Don’t waste time because this country is very big. Keep going forward, with a lot of effort you can achieve your goals,” Álvarez advises anyone who wants to open a business in the US.

Prospera is a state-owned nonprofit organization specializing in offering bilingual assistance to Hispanic entrepreneurs trying to establish or expand their businesses, and has helped various Cuban new arrivals to Miami to start businesses.

“What I most admire about the recently arrived Cubans is that they have a great capacity for recovery, they don’t put off work, they have a desire to learn,” says Myrna Sonora, vice president of Prospera, who is also Cuban-American.

Sonora says that Prospera has served many recently arrived Cubans who want to move forward as mechanics, stylists, or teachers, among other professions. “In the last five years, 13% of Prospera’s users in the south of Florida were recently arrived Cubans and in the last fiscal year of 2017-2018, it went up to 14%.”

“There was a time in which we were seeing very few professionals, but now it has gone up again. We are seeing many doctors and different professions. Also Cubans who enter the United States from third countries,” explains Sonora, who has been working at Prospera for seven years.

The vice president of the organization says that she is “proud of the fact that despite any difficulty that they have had to put up with, that spirit of being successful, of working hard to prosper and achieve the American dream” remains present in her compatriots.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera


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