Looking at Greenville’s Hispanic-owned businessesDec 23, 2021 12:30PM ● By Donna Isbell Walker
Between December 2020 and November 2021, we profiled a Hispanic-owned business each month. They ranged from coffee shops and bakeries to supermarkets and an insurance agency.
Here’s a brief look at each of the businesses we spotlighted.
Unlocked Coffee Roasters, a specialty coffee shop in the West End Village of Greenville, is owned by Colombian couple Andrés Camargo and Rocío Salazar. The pair began their entrepreneurial journey in 2018. Their online retail shop opened in 2019, and the brick-and-mortar store opened in 2020. The menu includes espresso, tinto-drip coffee, teas, smoothies, fruit bowls, and bakery items.
While they’ve faced their share of struggles with opening a new business in the midst of a pandemic, Camargo and Salazar say their determination was born out of their Colombian heritage. “Quitting is not part of our business plan,” Camargo said. “You may go to bed with frustration, but the next day you get up, get a shower, have a cup of coffee, and continue moving.”
Supermercado El Sol, a combination supermarket and specialty store selling Hispanic products, is owned by Honduras native Samuel Castro, who started there nearly seven years ago as an employee. Castro moved quickly to the position of store manager. When the owners decided to sell the business, Castro, who was 29 at the time, jumped at the chance to become a business owner. He and his wife, Iris Judith Castejon, run the store together.
“My philosophy is to learn and grow each day,” Castro said. “I believe that with hard work and education we can reach our goal of providing the best service to our clients. I always say the client is first – our main purpose is to fulfill their needs.”
State Farm Insurance agent Mahler Nuñez has a staff of six people who help to run his agency. Nuñez, a native of the Dominican Republic, moved to the United States almost 30 years ago to attend college. While studying business, he fell in love with Greenville. In addition to running his insurance business, Nuñez helped to launch the Hispanic Alliance’s financial stability team, and he teaches classes to new home buyers through the Greenville Human Relations Commission.
“Excellence is getting up every morning and basically taking every day as a blessing, learning, and being willing to make mistakes,” Nuñez said. “What can we learn from mistakes? How can we impact others? What can we celebrate? Excellence is being willing to improve every day.”
Jorge Celis moved to South Carolina from New Jersey in 2007, and after working as a butcher for 20 years, he opened Supermercado Los Arcos in Mauldin. Celis is also a partner in the Hispanic Alliance’s Canasta Básica, which has provided food assistance for families in difficult economic circumstances.
“When we opened the store, my wife would say, ‘Why are you buying so many products if we are not yet selling?’’ Celis said, recalling that he answered his wife’s question by saying, “Have faith, woman, have faith. God will help us out.”
Ghisela Eljach, a native of Barranquilla, Colombia, is the president and CEO of EG Latin Media and the founder and director of InSouth Magazine. Eljach created the magazine as a way to help newly arrived immigrants navigate their way around their new city. The lifestyle magazine publishes a mix of Spanish- and English-language articles, the Spanish articles geared toward an older audience, the English ones targeting younger readers. The magazine also features news articles about the countries with large populations in the Upstate.
“We were in a comfort zone, and with Covid, many people decided to make changes,” Eljach said. “It’s been a time to reinvent, and that’s an opportunity for businesses to grow.”
Wilfredo León founded the Foothills Minority Supplier Development Council in 1988. Several years later, he established The Latino Newspaper, the first Spanish-language newspaper in South Carolina. León’s impact on South Carolina has been widespread. León, a native of Puerto Rico, served on Gov. Jim Hodges’ Latino Task Force in 1999, work that led to the South Carolina Commission on Minority Affairs incorporating Latino representation for the first time.
“You don’t know the feeling of accomplishment that comes from knowing that the next generation is here, ready to take things to the next level,” León said. “That makes me extremely happy.”
Papi’s Tacos co-owner Jorge Barrales Jr. got his start in the restaurant business while translating for his father, Jorge Barrales Sr., when the elder Barrales interviewed for a job as a dishwasher at Soby’s. Barrales Sr. soon worked his way up to a job as cook, while the younger Barrales interned at Soby’s and later managed the Lazy Goat and Passerelle. The Barrales family opened Papi’s Tacos in 2013 in the former space of the Lazy Goat’s gelato shop. They later opened a location in Easley.
“I’ll forever be grateful to my parents for all of their hard work, to Carl (Sobocinski) for believing in us, and to our communities for continuing to support us,” Barrales Jr. said.
Abanico bills itself as the only Spanish Mediterranean restaurant and nightclub in Greenville. Amador Herraiz-Muro, a native of Spain, opened the restaurant in 2017, and in addition to food, Abanico features a DJ who spins a mix of Latin music, top 40 hits, and oldies. Herraiz-Muro has worked hard to redefine the concept of tapas, from tiny portions of appetizers to heartier fare that includes traditional Spanish entrees.
“The word ‘tapas’ has been prostituted,” Herraiz-Muro said. “Typically, it’s too expensive. There’s no reason to pay a lot for little bits of two or three things.”
Comal 864 is the brainchild of Dayna Lee, who wanted to bring the flavors of the Rio Grande Valley, near her hometown of Brownsville, Texas, to the Upstate. She started her catering business in 2019, naming it Comal after the Spanish word for “skillet” and 864 in honor of her adopted city’s area code. She began serving her food in pop-up locations with the eventual goal of opening a restaurant. The restaurant opened in November.
“It’s important to me that we’re good neighbors to one another and for people to know that no matter what’s in their wallets, they will be fed,” Lee said. “I can cook, and if you buy, we’ll be able to feed plenty of others, too. And if we can do that, we might be able to do something to make the world a little better.”
Tropical Grille has grown to 10 locations around South Carolina, but the restaurant began in Greenville when Lázaro Montoto wanted to share the Cuban “homestyle cooking” that he grew up enjoying as a child in Miami. Montoto was 26 when he started the restaurant chain, which serves Cuban sandwiches, wraps, and bowls, everything made from scratch. He hopes eventually to expand the chain to 100 restaurants.
“It’s a whole lot of hard work,” Montoto said. “You must understand that it’s a slow process, and it can be so stressful. I learned that it’s about the long haul; you just need a lot of patience to make it.”
Bonjour Crepe owner Mayra Gallo hails from Venezuela, but the menu at her restaurant comes from a country across the ocean, France. In Venezuela, Gallo worked as an attorney, but when she moved to the U.S. in 2005, she turned her talents to food. The restaurant, which will soon change its name to Bonjour Main, specializes in crepes, with a menu that features classics such as La Suzette Crepe and less-familiar crepe options such as The Norwegian, which is filled with smoked salmon and dill cream.
“I want to help essential workers … farm workers … TPS (those with temporary protected status),” Gallo said. “I want to help all the dreamers to achieve those dreams.”
Pereira Bakery, owned by Dora and Miguel Morales, is a Colombian bakery that uses recipes passed down through the family. The Moraleses opened the bakery in 2007, and it’s a family-run business, with two of their sons working as bakers. The menu includes savory dishes from their native Colombia, as well as sweet pastries.
“They’re family recipes that have been passed down from my dad to my brothers that are now the bakers here, (and) my mom,” said Lizeth Arango, daughter of Dora and Miguel Morales. “Although you can find the same piece of bread at a different bakery, you’re not going to get the same taste.”