Today, Maritza Abreu is the indomitable founder and CEO of Pisqueya, the hot sauce brand that uses authentic recipes and natural ingredients to rival its corporate competitors.
But Abreu didn’t always envision an entrepreneurial life for himself.
As a fresh out of college, she wanted to make her parents, who immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic in the late 1970s, proud — and at the time, she figured that meant getting a corporate presence.
So she began a two-year in-house consulting program at JPMorgan Chase. And immediately regretted it.
“I vividly remember the first day I walked into the office when an inner voice spoke to me and said: This is not your calling‘ says Abreu entrepreneur.
A “fire within” burned. Abreu wanted to share something with the world: the flavors she grew up listening to in her parents’ lunches in the heart of Brooklyn.
“Their menu was food from home from a town that knew very little about our culture at the time,” says Abreu. “Even so, they proudly celebrated our flavors and treated everyone who walked through our doors like family.”
Her parents forged strong relationships and a close-knit community, the strength of which was to be fully realized after a neighbor called in 2012 with tragic news: Smoke was rising from the restaurant. A fire had destroyed her beloved luncheonette.
All hands on deck went into action: Loyal customers were willing to help and volunteered to paint and help with the rebuilding process. “It was incredible to see such support,” says Abreu.
Also see: 3 Essentials for Building a Loyal Customer Base
“The Latin way of living and cooking is fundamentally based on farm-to-table principles.”
With the rally to rebuild, Abreu has reconnected with her roots and seen the power of food firsthand. That was the trigger for her leap into entrepreneurship. Abreu decided to carry on the family legacy – and its flavors.
From the start, Abreu recognized the clear distinction between the flavors of her culture and those available on store shelves. “The Latin way of living and cooking is fundamentally based on the farm-to-table principle,” she explains. “[Corporate giants] have pushed their agenda and capitalized on it by adding artificial ingredients to improve the taste of harmful spices.”
Pisqueya does things differently, celebrating traditions and practices that date back thousands of years and authentically represent Latin American culture. But Abreu didn’t just want to share time-honored recipes; She also wanted to tell the stories of families like her own who come to the United States in search of a better life and start their own businesses in the process.
“[These families] define who we are as Americans,” says Abreu. “The restaurants, the bodegas, the fruit stands, all that.”
It’s so important that we share the stories of companies that have grown strongly in sustainable ways, Abreu points out, as they are examples of aspiring entrepreneurs hoping to do the same — and proving that wealth creation doesn’t always have to look the same.
See also: 3 Wealth Building Strategies That Will Build Your Legacy
“I had to overcome my fears and be willing to leave a mark where there is no path.”
Abreu’s journey to founding the company was not without its surprises and challenges. She was immediately struck by the lack of women in Latin American cuisine, as they are usually the ones who “create the magic in Latin American kitchens”. However, they were not in the boardrooms where Abreu was. She had to go her own way.
“In order to own the narrative and reclaim what it means to be a CEO, I had to overcome my fears and be willing to leave a mark where there is no trail,” says Abreu.
One of the most important items on Abreu’s agenda? Bringing pisqueya into the mainstream.
“People’s choices about what to eat are severely limited by the choices available to them and what they can afford,” explains Abreu, citing food deserts filled with cheap spices and condiments high in salt, sugar and others harmful ingredients are saturated.
But Abreu says securing that mainstream presence starts with believing that Pisqueya, and everything it represents, deserves it — and goes on to educate the buyer about how the brand fills a gap in the market and is poised to fill the to satisfy demand.
Related: 5 Consumer Demand Generation Strategies
“Don’t be afraid to tell your story – it’s your superpower.”
As Abreu looks to the future of Pisqueya, she is excited about the brand’s growing community of people seeking authentic flavors rather than unhealthy corporate alternatives.
“This is slowly shifting the market,” says Abreu, “making room for food products that truly represent us. By pushing the flavors I grew up with, we’re creating a new generation of business owners, a generation that celebrates authenticity and inclusion and inspires others to do the same.”
Being part of this new generation of business owners also means giving back. Pisqueya’s Extend a Paw initiative donates all proceeds from her Hot Like Fuego merchandise to local, mostly women-led, animal welfare groups in the Dominican Republic, where awareness of the issue is much lower than in of the Dominican Republic USA, says Abreu.
See also: 10 ways small businesses can give back without breaking the bank
Growing up in the midst of two cultures has given Abreu a chance to see the differences between them and how much courage and tenacity it took for her parents to come to the US all those years ago to start a business with limited resources, not fluent in English. “They are true examples of entrepreneurship and purposeful living,” says Abreu – and the people she admires most.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15, Abreu has some simple but invaluable advice for aspiring Latinx entrepreneurs: “Don’t be afraid to share your story: It’s your superpower.”