HOW FABIOLA RUELA KEPT THE DOORS OF HER RESTAURANT OPEN DESPITE THE CHALLENGES OF COVID
“I like to ‘wow’ people. I want to see empty plates and happy faces,” said Fabiola Ruela, owner and founder of Paloma’s Mexican restaurant.
Fabiola had just turned 18 when she moved from Ecuador to New York City. From a young age, she had been enchanted with the city, and even after enrolling in school in Ecuador to become a lawyer, she couldn’t help but feel like her true calling was here in New York as a chef and restaurateur.
“My family is so important to me. I told my mother and brother about my idea, and they were really supportive. Together, we started Paloma’s, transforming a former deli into a Mexican restaurant. I put my heart and soul into every dish I make. When they eat my food, I want my customers to have a memorable experience.” Her passion was rewarded. Paloma’s was a success and as they continued to grow she began to make plans for a second location.
FINDING RESILIENCE THROUGH COVID-19
Then came March 17, 2020.
“The government said that because of COVID, we could only be open for deliveries and takeout. It was pretty rough for us. We had to close the doors, which meant we only had a window,” said Fabiola. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I didn’t want to send my employees home because I knew everybody needed that paycheck.”
The bills from rent, electricity, and gas were piling up for Fabiola’s restaurant, but her focus was on her employees and making it through to the other side of the pandemic. “We searched hard for help, and Ascendus is someone we trust.” She connected with Ascendus through their online application process for the PepsiCo IMPACTO Hispanic Business Accelerator grant – a $10,000 grant program for Hispanic-owned small businesses.
CHANGING FOR THE BETTER
Fabiola had worked with Ascendus before. She previously received a microloan to help her purchase more cooking equipment and expand her kitchen – meeting growing demand for an expanded delivery area and customer base. Ascendus had been a valued partner once before, and was so again during this trying time.
Fabiola used the funds she received through the PepsiCo IMPACTO Hispanic Business Accelerator grant to catch up with past-due bills and create and maintain temporary outdoor seating. The investments in outdoor dining were expensive, and the regulations were constantly changing, but Fabiola knew she needed to make the outdooring dining experience great for her loyal customers. She recalls seeing her customers’ teeth chattering in the cold before the restaurant added outdoor heaters. Their devotion to keeping her restaurant open let Fabiola know that her investments were well worth their price tag.
“As the leader of the business I had to be like, ‘this is going to be okay, this is going to go away,’ But inside of me, I was terrified.” She continued to stay strong, however, and her resilience paid off. “We actually never closed one single day during COVID.”
In 2021, Fabiola expanded her restaurant to a second, bigger, location. She is hoping to continue her growth and to continue bringing delicious food to New York City.