Chance meeting leads to thriving, tasty business for 2 Latina immigrants in Durham

Elaina Athans Image
Monday, September 28, 2020
Chance meeting leads to thriving, tasty business for 2 Latina immigrants in Durham
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Chance meeting leads to thriving, tasty business for 2 Latina immigrants in Durham

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- These days, the woman behind Cilantro Artisan Foods are cooking out of their own kitchens. The commercial space is closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the business partners are finding ways to continue offering culture to the community.

"We do everything by hand," explained Martha Arango while mixing together chopped vegetables.

Food is prepared the traditional way. Only fresh ingredients are used, and it is made in small batches to assure it tastes authentic.

The labor-intensive work results in creamy guacamoles and beautiful salsas with incredible depth. Some are rich and smoky, others spicy or slightly tart.

They're crafting dishes that have been passed down through the generations from a tiny village more than 1,500 miles away from their Durham homes.

"The salsas are my grandma, my sisters, and my mothers," said Maria Pacheco. "To me, it's honoring my roots - bringing and sharing the recipes I grew up with."

They're bringing flavors from the motherland to market after meeting years ago.

It happened while trying to better themselves in a new country. The ladies were attending night class together and were learning English as their second language. They started forging a friendship and through that, an adventure sprouting up.

"Our backgrounds are not in food and to start a new business in a new world for both of us -- we both just have the courage," Arango said.

The women come from different countries and cultures.

Pacheco was once a dentist in Mexico. Arango was an architect in Colombia. Both women left behind corporate careers when coming to the United States and once here chose to embrace other passions.

"We wanted to create something delicious and good," Pacheco said.

Four years later, their Latin-owned small business is blossoming and it's contributing to a bigger trend.

Latin-owned small businesses are growing by leaps and bounds. They contribute to more than $700 billion and account for a quarter of U.S. entrepreneurs, according to a study coming out of Stanford University.

The catering side of Cilantro's business is gone now with people mostly working from home, but the women told ABC11 that sales are soaring during COVID-19.

They're getting more placement in stores, which was a goal going into 2020.

The ladies have a spot every weekend at Durham Farmer's Market.

The partners are proud to be serving such a diversity community and it's feeding them with motivation to push forward.

Neither of them could have thought that chance meeting years ago, during a class to learn English, would lead to their slice of the American Dream.

"We have a lot of great customers always supporting us, always cheering, sharing our business with other people and always, always telling us how much they love our food," Pacheco said. "That has been just amazing."