In July 2019, Daneka Ruiz and Neftaly Arroyo embarked on a journey that would not only redefine their careers but also celebrate their diverse cultural heritage. They launched Soulvadorian, a culinary venture that blends Salvadoran, African American, and Puerto Rican flavors into a unique tapestry of soulful cuisine.
Trials and Triumphs: Navigating the Pandemic Storm
The beginning was promising, with Soulvadorian specializing in corporate catering through the EZ Cater platform. However, just as their business was gaining momentum, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, disrupting their plans and forcing them to hit the pause button. Corporate clients, like pharmaceutical representatives, couldn’t operate normally, and social gatherings were put on hold.
Resilience in Action
Despite the setbacks, Daneka and Neftaly didn’t give up. They persevered, and in 2022, they began picking up the pieces. It was in 2023, though, that their fortunes took a significant turn. They formed a partnership with an event venue, marking their first foray into the world of weddings and social gatherings. Their clientele diversified further, catering for the Hartford Yard Goats and collaborating with Wine Down CT for vending events. It was a transformative year for Soulvadorian.
Culinary Roots: A Heartfelt Tribute
Soulvadorian derives its name from the fusion of “Salvadoran” and the “soul” of African American cuisine, encapsulating the essence of its creators. Daneka, a proud DMV local (DC, Maryland, Virginia), with Salvadoran and African American roots, joined forces with Neftaly, her fiancé and business partner, who brings his Puerto Rican heritage to the table. Together, they’ve crafted a menu that’s a gastronomic tapestry—a tribute to the flavors they cherished growing up and an homage to the diverse cultures that have shaped their identities.
From Setback to Success
Daneka’s journey to entrepreneurship was fueled by a career setback in early 2019 when she was laid off from her job.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought they’d drop me like that. So, I made a pact with myself: no more clocking in for someone else. I was done being disposable in someone else’s story. I even told myself that when I ‘made it,’ I’d frame that horrible email they sent me – a reminder of how far I’d come,” says Daneka.
“And you know, beyond the whole job saga, there’s the whole other layer. Being a person of color, I’d dealt with my fair share of micro-aggressions during my time there. But I played it cool, brushed ‘em off,” says Daneka.
She resolved to never be disposable in someone else’s story and decided to pursue her passion for cooking. She researched the culinary business, registered the business officially, and got to work in the kitchen.
HEDCO: A Transformative Partnership
Their partnership with HEDCO, facilitated by Business Development Officer Morgan, was a game-changer. They secured a forgivable loan that allowed them to invest in catering inventory, equipment, and a storage unit. The funds also fueled a complete rebranding, including new logos and a website, enabling them to gain more exposure.
“Neftaly and I had the pleasure of meeting Morgan, a Business Development Officer at HEDCO, at a Wine Down CT event in West Hartford. He was super nice and told us a bit about a forgivable loan. We exchanged information and he said he’d get in touch with us within the next week. He stuck to his word and together we tackled the application that did in fact get approved! We are extremely grateful for that encounter and everything HEDCO has done/continues to do for Soulvadorian,” says Daneka.
Overcoming Challenges: Fueling Growth with HEDCO’s Support
Before the financial support from HEDCO, Soulvadorian faced the challenge of managing the sudden surge in catering and vending opportunities. With HEDCO’s assistance, they were able to navigate this challenge gracefully, purchasing the necessary equipment and inventory to sustain and grow their operations.
“As we speak, we’re still in the process of putting the remainder of those funds to good use. It’s been quite the journey so far, let me tell you. We’ve invested in a bunch of catering inventory, equipment, and a storage unit to keep everything going. We’ve been able to do a complete rebrand with new logos as well as our website and paid ads to gain more exposure. This funding has really amped up our business game, taking us up a notch or two. But we’re not done yet. There’s an extension of our business in the works, but we can’t disclose too much at this time since it is in the very early stages. Trust me, though, it’s gonna be something big. So, stay tuned for that – we’ve still got some of those funds in our back pocket ready to unleash some serious magic. And we owe it all to HEDCO for supplying us with the financial backing to help us create a solid platform to build from,” says Daneka.
Words of Wisdom: Daneka’s Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
For aspiring entrepreneurs, Daneka offers valuable advice: take the plunge without overthinking, confront fear head-on, and surround yourself with supporters who believe in your vision, even if they are strangers. She emphasizes that doubters will always exist but assures that unwavering determination and a belief in your own journey will ultimately lead to success.
“My advice for anyone eyeing the entrepreneurial route: just dive right in, my friend. Seriously, don’t get dragged down in overthinking, just go for it. You’ll only truly know if this hustle is for you once you’re right in the thick of it. Oh, and let’s not mince words about fear – it’s always lurking, ready to whisper doubts in your ear, but don’t let it boss you around. It’s like that internal fight-or-flight system – it’ll shout “run!” every chance it gets. But you’ve got to hold your ground. Another thing is that you’ll often find more love and support from strangers than from folks you’ve known forever. It sounds wild, but it’s a thing. Especially when things like this aren’t the “norm” in the culture you grew up in. A lot of the time people will project their insecurities/regrets onto you by saying that your goals are impossible to attain or that they are unrealistic. But that is always, always about them. Not you. As long as you know deep down that this is your game and you’re all in no matter the time or work it might take, then the rest will fall into place, I promise,” says Daneka.
The Future: A Flavorful Journey Continues
Soulvadorian’s story is a testament to the resilience of entrepreneurs who refuse to be defined by setbacks and instead celebrate their heritage through the power of food. As they continue to grow and innovate, we eagerly anticipate the magic they have yet to unleash. Soulvadorian is not just a business; it’s a flavorful journey through cultures, a tribute to family, and a beacon of hope for those pursuing their dreams.Their culinary journey has been marked by both challenges and triumphs, making them an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs across Connecticut.
HEDCO Inc. is dedicated to fueling the growth of small businesses in Connecticut. If you’re seeking guidance and resources to nurture or expand your venture, reach out to us today. HEDCO’s loans and grants offer the capital you need to start or grow your business. Contact us today to learn more and get started on your path to success.
For more information about Soulvadorian and their soulfully food, visit: www.soulvadorian.com