Mariela Duque and Jose Chicas are a team in life and in business, as co-owners of Salento Colombian Café & Kitchen in Washington Heights, NY. With the help of an SBA Microloan through Pursuit, they’re serving traditional Colombian foods, baked goods, and rich Colombian coffees to their growing clientele.
A love of foods to share leads to a bakery, then a café
As the owner of a specialty business based in New Jersey, Jose had created Colombian pastries, breads, and other baked goods for years. Knowing how much his wife, Mariela, loves cooking for others, he encouraged her to partner with him on a new venture – a café and restaurant that would feature the foods that she learned to cook as a child alongside her grandmother in Mariela’s native country, Colombia, along with Jose’s baked goods and specialty coffees.
Mariela and Jose began to develop the menu for Salento, which is named after a small coffee-growing pueblo in Colombia. Mariela spent nearly two years looking for the perfect location and found it on a busy corner at 165th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in New York City’s Washington Heights community. Then, Mariela and Jose got to work renovating and refreshing the space to make it their own.
“I love cooking and sharing foods with others and there were no other restaurants that offered the kind of authentic Colombian foods that we wanted to bring to the community,” Mariela says. “We get our Colombian ingredients directly from our sources, so the food is so much more delicious than what you’ll find in other restaurants.”
With their ideal location and their recipes perfected, Salento was ready for business.
Pandemic-mandated closures hit
Although thousands of businesses in New York City had to close temporarily due to the pandemic mandates, for Mariela and Jose, the blow was particularly hard – after putting everything they had into it, Salento was forced to shut down just three days after opening.
“It was heartbreaking and, honestly, pretty scary,” Mariela admits. “We had worked so hard for years to get our restaurant ready for our customers. Then, to have everything stopped after just three days, it was so, so hard.”
Eventually, they reopened for takeout orders and as word spread throughout the community about their homestyle Colombian specialties, business picked up.
“We’re in a great location and the community has been very supportive,” Mariela says. “It’s a neighborhood that has a lot of people living here and also schools and businesses, hospitals and police departments, so we have a constant flow of customers from the time we open until we close.” Salento is open seven days a week, from 8am until 8pm, and Mariela and Jose work several hours before and after, cooking and baking. “It’s exhausting and we could use more staff, but we love it so much,” she adds.
An SBA Microloan helps them solidify their financial foundation
Opening a new restaurant and having to shut it down indefinitely just three days into business would be devastating for many small business owners, but Mariela and Jose persevered. “Really, anything else wasn’t an option, because we put everything we had into opening Salento and we knew it would be successful,” she says.
Although business has steadily increased, in spring of 2022, they were short on the working capital needed to pay for staff and purchase ingredients. They learned about Pursuit from friends and colleagues and were put in touch with Managing Vice President Paola Garcia.
“Paola quickly got to know us and what we wanted to achieve,” Mariela says, “and that was so important to us. She told us about the SBA Microloan and it was a lifesaver. Within a week, our accountant helped us fill out the application, we were approved, and had the funds in hand.”
“We’re so grateful for Paola’s help and for Pursuit, I really don’t know what we would have done without this SBA loan,” Mariela admits.
Pursuit helps small businesses with working capital and much more
For Mariela and Jose, their goal now is to leverage opportunities at hand that can help them strengthen the business’s financial foundation, including enclosing a patio space to make it useable year-round – and she says that they’ll come back to Pursuit for help.
With loan options from $10,000 to $5.5 million, Pursuit has funding options that can help you get the working capital you need, as well as loan options for the purchase or construction of commercial real estate, to refinance high-cost business-related debt, and much more.
Take a look at more than 15 small business loan programs, then contact us to learn about how we can help you, too.