Miami is definitely a hot spot for Latina entrepreneurs these days. A handful are turning their childhood passions into dreams and launching businesses inspired by their Hispanic upbringing. I caught up with four trailblazers who are leaving their mark in Miami and making a big impact on the ever-burgeoning city.
Match Made in Heaven
Wives and business partners, Natalie, 37 and Stephanie Otero, 34, of Happy Vegan Bakers in Hialeah launched their business 5 1/2 years ago out of a tiny nook inside a bakery called El Tejadito’s Bakery. They rented space before saving enough money to open their own proper shop. Today, Happy Vegan Bakers is one of the only eateries in the country where you can nosh on vegan pastelitos.
“We decided to do vegan because we are both vegans. We did not want to sacrifice the flavors and tradition we grew up with (Natalie is Cuban and Stephanie is Dominican and Colombian) but we did not want to use animal products.” The Oteros both attribute their love of the kitchen to their grandmothers. “We learned how to cook by looking at our grandmothers,” said Natalie. “It was their way of showing their love,” added Stephanie.
The entrepreneurial duo shared how their aha moment happened…”We used to go every Wednesday to a Wynwood Art Gallery for their Wine Wednesday event in 2014. We were selling among more established brands and we were the only ones who would sell out.”
Today, their demographic is 18- to 35-year-olds, but they also get non-vegans and abuelitos and abuelitas that are buying for their grandkids. “If we post it, they will come,” referring to their Instagram (@happyveganbakers) which helps them promote their menu.
“We use our car for everything,” said Natalie. Without it, we could not do deliveries, distribution, and shop for ingredients. We use it to take our 15- and 11-year-old daughters out. We went cross country for our honeymoon in our Toyota.” – Happy Vegan Bakers
Hands full? No problem! The new 2021 Toyota Sienna has available kick open & close sliding side doors and rear liftgate.* Whether you’re delivering delicious pastelitos to your vendors or sporting gear for your kids, the new Sienna makes loading and unloading a snap.
The Life of the Party
Party planner Maria Cristina (Cristy) Lloveras, 29, went from studying Economics in college and working as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch for 3 years to following her adolescent love of throwing parties by opening her own party planning company. Today, she runs MCL Coordination and does everything from weddings to corporate dinners. Her love for event planning started at a young age. “I have always been the party planner in my Cuban family. I would come up with reasons to throw parties. I love the organization and design element of it,” said Cristy.
Cristy explained how during her college years, through a sorority, she interned for a big event planner that has been featured in Vogue and Martha Stewart. “I would give up my Saturdays to do ballroom events. That planted the seed that I could really do something with this.” Her turning point came while working at Merrill Lynch and volunteering to coordinate charity fundraisers. “I started getting phone calls from people who attended and wanted to hire me to do their parties on weekends. I also met a lot of vendors in Miami. Their guidance and support made me feel like I could do it,” said Cristy. And that she did.
Cristy’s favorite quote captures the soul of her goal-getter spirit, “Lo que esta pa’ ti nadie te lo quita.” (What’s meant for you, no one can take away) “Family is really important to me,” said Lloveras. “My family has been really supportive. They urged me to be thoughtful in the way I was building my business…they inspired me to love connecting with people,” she added. Her advice to anyone trying to get into the events business…“Find a mentor in the events world. Working under someone is so valuable. Don’t ever underestimate what you can learn from someone.”
“I live in my car, I carry a lot of décor elements like lanterns, candles, votives, and guest book. Sometimes it is my design pieces and my design decks in the car. But I also use my car to soak up adventure and spend time in nature. It recharges me. I love to kayak, hike and swim. That’s when I feel grounded.”
Who knows where your passion will take you? Live the adventure with available All-Wheel Drive on the Toyota Sienna. Versatile enough for work and for play, the Toyota Sienna has flexible seating and cargo layout with easy-fold 3rd row seats.
A Business in Bloom
Melanie Fernandez, 34, launched House of Lilac in 2015 as an e-commerce business and in 2019 opened up her first store front. She saw a void in the floral industry for millennials and she decided to fill it by creating a more upscale approach to flowers. “We wanted to make the flower industry more upscale, engaging for millennials and help them style their homes through all kinds of flowers,” said Fernandez.
“The flower business is very tactile and visual. There is a specific customer that wants to feel and see the product so having a storefront was another avenue for reaching a whole different set of people,” explained Fernandez regarding her decision to open a brick-and-mortar store. “Our business continues to grow and value itself on in-person relationships and experiences. We are known, first and foremost, for quality and secondly, if not tied for first as well, for our customer service. So being able to interact with customers has been life-changing for our business!”
Fernandez says her mother sparked her interest in flowers from a young age. “She always had them at home and most importantly, always had them dried around the house. I saw how they influenced home décor.”
Melanie also shared how her Latina background fuels her drive to succeed. “I think more than anything my Latina hustle influences it a lot. I come from a family of exiles who started all over again from the ground up in a different country that spoke a whole other language, so for me, there is no excuse to not work hard or make my dreams come true. There are not really any barriers that I don’t believe I can knock down. I think a lot of that also comes from being raised by strong women. I’ve never felt any less than any person when it comes to my goals and I have my upbringing and the matriarchs that raised me and my family to thank for that.”
“You just have to take it one step at a time,” Fernandez advises, “Keep going and don’t ever compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. You always have to start at the beginning and starting there is needed so you learn from successes and mistakes.”
“We deliver all over Miami and if we didn’t have a car, we wouldn’t be able to deliver flowers to and for our customers. We need lots and lots of room for flowers.” – House of Lilac
An on-the-go office is in high demand and now more than ever delivery is a vital part of growing businesses. The 2021 Toyota Sienna also delivers with multiple charging ports and a class-leading EPA-estimated 36 MPG.**
Annie Vazquez is a journalist and creator of TheFashionPoet.com, an award-winning lifestyle & travel blog. She won “Best Miami Blog” by the New Times and won Best Content Creator at Univision‘s Telca Awards. She focuses on Body Positivity, Healthy Eating, Fashion & Travel.