Adrian’s Story: Carving a Small Business from the Ground Up
It’s a hot summer day in Oregon and the Forest Grove Farmers Market is, as always, bustling with people. The small Main Street cutting through downtown Forest Grove is packed on both sides with E-Z Up tents, each overflowing with vegetables in every color of the rainbow, sizzling fresh-cooked meals, and desserts that draw you in with their sweet smells swirling through the warm August winds.
In the middle of it all is a small but busy tent called Raspa2, where colorful shaved ice is being served to a line of children eager to cool off with a refreshing, fruity treat. This is Adrian’s booth. He and his friend, Rafael, work quickly as they pack the ice, add the fresh fruit syrup, and top if off with whipped cream or gummy bears. Every customer takes their shaved ice from Adrian with wide eyes and a big smile, ready to dig in as quickly as possible. Watching Adrian work, two things become immediately clear: he’s a hard worker, and he loves what he does.
Adrian is from Morelos, Mexico, just south of Mexico City. When he was a child, he started dreaming about owning his own business. “My mom and my dad had a small business making school uniforms in Mexico,” said Adrian. “It was really small. They were only making a little money from the uniforms. And I said ‘When I get to the United States, I’m going to work really hard and I’m going to buy some [sewing] machines and I’m going to make my own business’.”
He finished high school in Mexico, and when he was 20 he came to Beaverton, Oregon to visit his mother who had moved here. He instantly fell in love with Oregon. “I really like this place because it’s safe. The first thing is safety — that’s what I was looking for,” he said.
“And so, I started working, because I was trying to send money back to Mexico. I made some money the first month and thought ‘This is not too bad. It’s much better. One hour here is like one day in Mexico’. The salary was good.” He was working as a dishwasher at a Thai restaurant and eventually landed a second job at Target where he would work for the next nine years. He met his wife, who is from El Salvador, and a few years later they got married and decided to settle down in Oregon for good. It was home.
Adrian bounced around to different part-time gigs at various restaurants while working at Target over the years, and eventually landed at a sushi restaurant in Portland where he still works part-time today.
Adrian’s brother, who lives in Chicago, had picked up the skill of carving fruit. He could take a chunk of watermelon and hand-carve it into an ornate rose. During a visit to Chicago to see his brother, Adrian asked him to teach him the art of carving fruit. So he did. Adrian picked it up naturally and decided to start a small business selling hand-carved fruit, and he called the business ‘Edible Arte’ — a fitting name.
Four years after starting Edible Arte, Adrian spent most of his days making sushi rolls at the restaurant while carving fruit in his free time for events such as weddings or anniversaries. He honed his carving skills and started carving names, and then cartoons and faces. He would lay in bed at night thinking of new ways to carve the melons. (See video of Adrian carving)
The thought of working full-time as a business owner never escaped his mind. While making sushi gave him a comfortable living, he wanted something more. “That’s not what I want, to work forever for one company. I really want to do something — or at least try to do something. If I try and it doesn’t work, I’m going to be happy because I tried. But if I never try, I would feel so frustrated. If you see someone else doing your idea, you’ll feel so bad.”
“For a long time I’ve been trying to start my own business.” He began brainstorming business ideas, trying to come up with something that wasn’t already on the market. And one day it hit him: raspados. A prevalent shaved- ice dessert in Mexico, raspados were something he grew up enjoying with his family. He knew there were shaved-ice businesses in the U.S., but it was different here — full of artificial flavors. In Mexico, it was served with chunks of fruit mixed with fresh fruit syrups, and no artificial flavors. He knew he had to bring this slice of Mexico to life here in the U.S. He would call it ‘Raspa2’, because who doesn't love a pun?
His idea was secured. But he knew he had a lot to learn. There were permits, licenses, and of course you need to know people — a network is key when starting a small business.
A friend of his recommended that he take a class at Adelante Mujeres to learn more about small business development, so he signed up for our Cocinemos course. Cocinemos is a collaboration between Adelante Mujeres and the City of Hillsboro. The 10-week course teaches Latino entrepreneurs how to start and run a food-based business.
“I just went to Adelante Mujeres to learn. I didn’t know what I was going to learn, but I learned a lot of things, like how to start the business,” said Adrian. “And I needed some advice from people who already had their own business.”
Adrian and the other budding entrepreneurs learned all sorts of small business tips, from how to set the price of their products, to how to get permits.
“I really like how they are really trying to help people. It’s not like ‘Oh, I’m going to give you this course — learn as much as you can’. No, they really care about people. They were calling me, ‘Hey Adrian, how was your first day at the game at the Hillsboro Hops?’. [Javier and I] are close like friends now.”
“This year we did a lot of events. I didn’t expect that.” He’s now at the tail end of his first summer owning Raspa2; and what a busy summer it was! Adrian sold his shaved ice at the Hillsboro Farmers Market, the Portland Saturday and Sunday Markets, the Forest Grove Farmers Market, and much more. He also signed a major 1-year contract to sell at the Hillsboro Hops baseball games, so some days he’s managing two events at a time.
He says that farmers markets vary depending on cost, the crowds, and the competition. “The Forest Grove Farmers Market is really good. It’s really small, but a lot of people come.”
The Forest Grove Farmers Market became a program of Adelante Mujeres in 2005. The market was originally started by a group from the City of Forest Grove, but it wasn’t very successful, so Adelante decided to take it over and give it a boost. The idea was to have farmers in our Sustainable Agriculture Program sell their produce at the market, which ultimately expanded to vendors who graduated from our Empresas Small Business Program and Cocinemos courses. Today, ten Adelante Mujeres participants sell at the Forest Grove Farmers Market.
“Farmers Markets are a great way to launch food-based businesses,” explains Kaely Summers, the Forest Grove Farmers Market Manager. “The initial capital needed is much less than, say, starting a brick and mortar restaurant. You can also build up your customer base, test new recipes and flavors, and work on your marketing and branding strategies with less risk.”
Kaely has managed the Forest Grove Farmers Market for Adelante Mujeres since 2011. “I get to witness the exchange of flavors and traditions between cultures,” she says.
“I think it’s important for the community to see Adelante Mujeres’ programs in action, as well as how the Latinx community is contributing to local economic development and activity,” explains Kaely. “We also have lots of Latinx flair at the market with products such as chorizo, tamarind ice cream, squash blossoms, pupusas, and events like our annual salsa fest contest and celebrating Dia de Muertos.”
Before the crowds arrived at the Forest Grove Farmers Market, Adrian worked on the final touches of a watermelon with the Raspa2 logo perfectly carved into it. His hands worked fast, not making one mistake as he gently carved away the green skin of the melon to create delicate flowers.
“[Raspa2] is something pretty small. But we’ve done some good events and made some good connections, so we are happy. It’s not like we are making a lot of money, but we are happy.”
Adrian has plenty of future goals. He wants to merge Edible Arte with Raspa2, and he wants to move toward using only organic and locally-grown fruit. And he wants to expand, maybe even adding sushi to his Raspa2 menu and owning a storefront business.
He says the thing he loves the most about owning his business is seeing his customers happy. If they get asked for a shaved ice that isn’t on the menu, Adrian will make it happen. “And we don’t charge extra — we would never do that. We try to make everybody happy. That’s the part I really love.”
If you’d like to support Adelante Mujeres’s programs like Cocinemos or our farmers market, click HERE.