“I wouldn’t have been able to stay open without Ascendus and the support of my community.”
In 2014, Tathiana had just moved from Ecuador to the United States and was searching for a way to provide for her family. She was walking down Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, New York when she saw a poster looking for a waitress at an Ecuadorian restaurant. She applied and was immediately hired. She moved up the ranks over the years and went from being a waitress, to the manager, and finally to the owner of El Gran Coffee Shop.
Tathiana knew when she moved from Ecuador that she wanted to make something of her own in America. She didn’t know what it was at first, but as she began waitressing at El Gran Coffee Shop, she started to realize that what really sparked her interest was food. She wanted to create something that represented Ecuador and realized the best way she could bring her home country to America was through food. “Food is what brings people together. When you miss your home country, you get that feeling of being there through food.”
She started looking for a restaurant of her own to buy when El Gran Coffee Shop went up for sale in 2019. The owner offered to sell the restaurant to Tathiana, and she immediately accepted. “It was a perfect opportunity, it just aligned at the right time.” But there was a reason that the owner was selling the restaurant, it was having financial problems. Tathiana had a lot of problems to fix as the new owner.
TRANSITIONING FROM WAITRESS TO OWNER
First, she had to find a way to get the employees to trust her. Tathiana knew that she wanted the employees to stay because they were already familiar with her. She wanted to build a bridge of trust and security because she knew their families and knew she had a responsibility to provide for them.
By the end of 2019, Tathiana had developed the trust of her employees and she had gotten the restaurant on a stable track. She had introduced a new menu of Ecuadorian seafood cuisine that was native to her coastal hometown including ceviche, bolon de verde, cazuela de pescado, and more. She also added décor from Ecuador and mirrored the restaurant to what it would traditionally look like in Ecuador. “I wanted people to feel at home. I wanted them to feel like they were in Ecuador.”
NAVIGATING THROUGH THE PANDEMIC
Things were starting to look up for El Gran Coffee Shop, but the pandemic changed that. “It was so hard working to build that trust with the employees and then telling them we can’t afford to pay them during the pandemic. All I thought about was the families of my 17 employees.” Her restaurant was closed for six weeks, and when it opened again only her family and the chef stayed to work. Tathiana’s family had to do everything, from delivery, to cleaning, to waitressing.
Through Ascendus Tathiana was able to get a $50,000 loan from the Restaurant Future’s Loan Fund. She used the money to pay bills, make repairs to the restaurant, and most importantly pay her employees. When Tathiana opened her restaurant again, she was amazed to see her customers were waiting outside. Her community was loyal to her, and throughout the pandemic they helped her with the growth of the restaurant and to bring in new customers. “I wouldn’t have been able to stay open without Ascendus and the support of my community.”
Tathiana’s daughter translated for her mother in this interview and says that her mother is the backbone of their family and a light in the community. “My mother is a very social person, walking down Roosevelt Avenue everyone knows her. She was always working on how to improve the restaurant, and we wouldn’t have been able to get through the pandemic without her strength and positivity.”
Because of her hard work and the support from her community, Tathiana has been able to expand her restaurant to a second location. They are getting so many customers, that she already has plans to expand to a third location. “I just hope that I can keep growing, so that I can keep providing jobs and opportunities to more families in this community.”
To learn more about El Gran Coffee Shop, visit: https://www.facebook.com/El-Gran-Coffee-Shop-101483261232390/menu/