Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Latina who is licking the odds


Published Sept. 2013

Many Latinas have an entrepreneurial spirit. Some have ideas that are very different from anything that has been done before. Believing in our ideas and garnering support from others is just half the battle, but it can be done. Just ask Betty Alatorre de Hong, also known as “Paletas Betty.”

As a teenager, Alatorre de Hong travelled more than 1,000 miles with her family from Michoacan, Mexico, to settle in Phoenix. The things she missed most about leaving her home were the flavors of her favorite foods – homemade tortillas, tacos from street vendors, fruit juices (known as aguas frescas), fruits and vegetables from local farms and her beloved fresh fruit paletas (Mexican-style popsicles).

That is why she decided to open Paletas Betty Ice Cream Shops in Arizona.

Her dream was years in the making and it wasn’t an easy task, but she worked hard, believed in it, and convinced others to believe in it and support her. Betty had no culinary background but she had passion, and she believed in herself and her dream.

It’s hard enough learning how to start and run a business but for this Latina coming from another country it was even more difficult. She remembers how challenging it was to learn to speak English and assimilate into American culture, especially while living in a predominantly Spanish-speaking home. She took English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual classes and immersed herself in English-speaking settings.

“When we moved here, I remember watching TV or listening to people and it just seemed like they were speaking so fast,” says Alatorre de Hong. “The language is reversed and my brain had to be trained. I needed to find my way through school and find out how to go to college.” As hard as it was, she had to take the initiative and do it.

She eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Arizona State University and began working for the Vanguard Group, managing retirement plans and investment funds for almost five years.

She wanted to do something different. “I still missed things from back home and to me it seemed like I was never able to find really good paletas with all-natural ingredients like the ones back home.”
She explored options and opened her first store in July, 2010, in Chandler. She opened another store in Tempe in 2011 and is planning for future growth in this market.

Hordes of students visit the Tempe location, while the Chandler location attracts more families. Both locations get a fair share of out-of-state customers as well. She picked those locations because they were located near other local businesses.

“The hardest thing with starting this business was getting people to believe in my idea and my product,” she says. “In order to overcome obstacles, I had to really do a lot of research and have people try the product and convince them to take a chance because at that time a lot of people had never heard of the paleta Mexican fruit popsicle.”

Betty Alatorre de Hong says it has been a great experience thus far and she’s learning something new every single day. Her advice to other Latinas: “If you have an idea or a dream, no matter how big or small it is, follow your gut instinct and do it!”

An Arizona native, Diana Bejarano, is a blogger, columnist, motivational speaker, marketing professional and a graduate of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Reach her on her website at latinastillstanding1.com or e-mail her at latinastillstanding@yahoo.com.

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