Editor’s note: A version of this blog first appeared in the October 2017 issue of Latina Style Magazine, which celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month.
Born to a single mother in Argentina, Lorena Cantarovici says she grew up constantly on the verge of homelessness. She eventually launched a successful career in banking and settled in Denver – now a wife, mother of three… and an entrepreneur with her sights set on revolutionizing the artisanal fast-casual restaurant industry.
“We are the front wave of a national trend in ready-to-eat ethnic food,” she said.
In 2010, Lorena made traditional Latin American empanadas for a party in Denver and was approached by a caterer who asked her to fulfill a big order. That order led to several more. She had never cooked professionally but was soon selling hand-crafted empanadas out of a converted kitchen in her garage – and a business was born. Maria Empanada, named for Lorena’s mother, now has three locations in Denver and a fourth on the way. She has 26 employees who make nearly 60,000 empanadas a month.
Lorena Cantarovici was honored by the U.S. Small Business Administration as Colorado’s 2017 Small Business Person of the Year. Two weeks ago, I visited her business as part of my SBA Ignite Tour visit to Denver.
As Administrator of the SBA, I am working to empower more entrepreneurs like Lorena. The United States has 30 million small businesses, which truly are the engines of our nation’s economy. And according to the latest research from the National Women’s Business Council, nearly 1.5 million of them are owned by Hispanic women. Research also shows Latinas are especially successful as entrepreneurs. According to the last report published by the SBA’s Office of Advocacy, women own 36% of all businesses; among Hispanic-owned businesses, that share rises to 44%. On average, Latina-owned businesses that employ workers create an average of seven jobs and have $766,000 in annual sales.
Lorena is a terrific example of Latina entrepreneurship, and also a symbol of the many ways the SBA supports entrepreneurs as they are starting and growing their businesses. The SBA offers counseling and access to capital among its services, both through its 68 district offices and its resource partners in communities nationwide. Lorena attended a workshop run by a Small Business Development Center that helped her develop her first business plan in 2010. She also got counseling from the SBDC on accounting, marketing, legal issues and risk management. As demand soared, she outgrew her first commercial kitchen and needed to expand. She got a microloan from an SBA lending partner and moved into a new location four times the size. In 2016, Lorena got an SBA-guaranteed 7(a) loan to open a second storefront. This year, she will open her fourth location, and her long-term goal is to take her restaurant concept mainstream.
These are big goals, considering Lorena Cantarovici says at the beginning, it often seemed the business was hours from closing its doors. The SBA helped her, and it’s positioned to help more entrepreneurs as well.
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