When Angel immigrated to Canada to unite with his wife Michelle, he left behind a 15-year career working as a chef in top restaurants and hotels in Havana, Cuba. In Canada, he had no credit, spoke very little English, and had to adjust to a dramatically different culture.
But Michelle says she was determined to not let these barriers hold Angel back from shining. She didn’t want Angel becoming just another story of an immigrant unable to continue their profession in a new country, resorting to odd jobs to make ends meet.
Michelle says she noticed that Canadians were increasingly curious about Cuba. More and more Canadians were travelling to the country and talking about it. She saw a business opportunity to offer an authentic taste of Cuba here in Canada, and realized that by combining their strengths, she and Angel could build a successful business.
Michelle comes from a media background, and says she was confident that she could take the lead in marketing and business development. Angel — who has been cooking Cuban food his entire life – could deliver a unique culinary experience.
They started small, offering catering in their local neighbourhood. But they were able to achieve fast growth just through word of mouth. To capitalize on the hype they had created, Angel and Michelle expanded into offering a mobile churro bar within a few months.
“We were able to say now we have the addition of Churrobar,” says Michelle. “People started hiring us to do late night weddings, and birthdays, and anniversaries, and here we were making churros . . . it was incredible”.
The next step in their dream was to open a restaurant, but they needed financing. Michelle described this as the scariest part of the process.
“Every time we went to the bank, it was ‘no, no, no.’ Well how could Angel get credit, he’s been here less than two years, there’s zero credit. Everywhere you see on the billboards and on the TV it says ‘come to the bank, we’ll help you start your business,’” Michelle says. “But [it’s only] once you hit $300,000 then the bank will help you. And that was the biggest setback and biggest fear – not having enough money, and wanting something so bad.”
Finally, one banker recommended that they try Futurpreneur. Futurpreneur’s Newcomer Offering allows permanent residents living in Canada for fewer than 60 months to apply for Futurpreneur financing and mentorship through its Start-Up Program.
Angel and Michelle applied to the program and worked with Futurpreneur’s business development experts to make sure their business plan was as tight as can be, while simultaneously taking steps to secure a location.
In the end everything lined up: their plan got approved and they received their funding just in time for opening day. Michelle also got her wish to be paired with a female business mentor from the restaurant industry.
Today, a year after launching their take-out restaurant, Angel and Michelle are renovating a space – ever so close to realizing their dream of a sit-down restaurant. And despite the quick success they’ve already achieved, their hunger to keep growing hasn’t faltered.
“I take pride in saying my husband is back there [in the kitchen], pushing every single day, and I come in at night and work in the front, and there’s just one girl who works for us. It’s incredible when people have passion, what they can do.”