Small Business Spotlight: El Arepazo Colombian Food

El Arepazo Colombian Food, Inc.

This conversation is part of an ongoing series in celebration of National Small Business Week. Each day we’ll feature a different entrepreneur that we have served through our brick-and-mortar Centers and other small business programs. Learn more about our small business programming and meet the other entrepreneurs here. 

Luz Marlen Hincapie, owner of El Arepazo restaurant in Jackson Heights, has been working with the NYC Business Solutions – Queens Center since July 2017. Ms. Hincapie leveraged the Center’s pro bono legal assistance to get help with a lease issue. Read on to learn more about her plans for El Arepazo’s growth, how owning a business helps her support her family, and why having a plan is critical to entrepreneurship.

What made you want to own your own business? What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?

I have always had an entrepreneur spirit, dating back to when we lived in Colombia. We are the first generation in my family to be business owners. With the hard work that a small business demands, comes a lot of gain and prizes. I like that as an entrepreneur I  am able to create a lifestyle for myself and my family. It allows room for leadership to guide, lead, and help others. I can provide opportunities not just for my family but for my employees and their families.

What was your biggest challenge?  How did you overcome it?

Our biggest challenge was to have to leave our business space after only a few months of being in operation. Never did I think that sub-leasing was going to bring such misfortune and grief. It was as if we were being tested in life. Money, time, and the overall work that we had already put into the business was vanishing before our eyes due to something that was not in our control. It was situation between the lessee and landlord. We were able to overcome this obstacle with help and guidance of wonderful people that led us a step at a time, having trust and confidence that they truly were going to help us.

How did you first hear about the Business Solutions Center? When was your first time working with the team at the Center?

In the past, family acquaintances briefly mentioned that the city’s government provides help and assistance to small businesses. However we did not pursue the advice at the time. It wasn’t until we arrived at the NYC Small Business Support Center, where we applied for the Food Establishment Permit with DCA. With the curiosity of how to obtain funding for our small business, we asked for assistance. Mr. Victor Velez, Assistant of DCA, spoke very highly of NYC Business Solutions’ services and how they can assist with hiring and financing for our new business. We immediately requested the service.

What services did you receive at the Center, and how has that support helped you grow your business?

Initially, we inquired about financing for working capital. Due to the issue between the lessee and landlord, we were forced to get legally involved. At the time, we put a pause on the finance loan application with BCNA and NYC Business Solutions. Paula Libreros, our Account Manager at the Queens Center, immediately referred us to pro-bono legal assistance. We were fortunate to have been connected to Thomas Farrell, Esq who we retained after receiving our free legal consultation.

What are your plans for the future of your business?

Our plan is to continue to establish the El Arepazo location in Jackson Heights, Queens. By establish, I mean reach a level of operating almost flawlessly, with a level of success and profit that will lead to expansion. As we live and learn this process, we take notes on everything that works and doesn’t work. The bigger vision is to expand by opening a second location New Jersey and a third in Miami, Florida.

What does owning a business mean to your family and future?

Being business owners means everything to us. From knowing and confirming our ability to work hard and overcome challenges, it provides an overall confidence and allows us to believe anything is attainable. To be able to create a different lifestyle for myself and family, providing opportunities for my children and leading them by example. As business owners, we also plan to give back to the those in need.

How does your business impact your community? How are you involved in your community?

Our business has impacted our community by creating new jobs and offering diverse Colombian cuisine in the area. We offer some basic authentic tastes from Colombia yet with a different twist to it for our customers. As Christians, we are very involved in our community church, which is also located in Jackson Heights, where we participate by providing meals and help to those in need.

What advice do you have for other business owners, or people considering becoming entrepreneurs?

To all entrepreneurs who are in business or looking to start one: the truth is, it will be very hard- hard work and hard times. But with a vision and dream, something you really believe in, it can and will happen. Do not lose focus and faith. Make sure to prepare, plan, stay constant, and get involved in every aspect of the business. Just because you are an owner, doesn’t mean that you don’t roll your sleeves up to get busy in the kitchen. Lastly, but certainly not least all our gratitude is to God, he is everything.