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Side of Lala's Puerto Rican Kitchen Food Truck2

Lala’s Puerto Rican Kitchen a piece of Boricua heaven

Lisa Cartagena in her home kitchen

Lisa Cartagena in her home kitchen

Does cooking make you happy? Making food for others is a long tradition in Latino culture –no matter where you are from. Food is our way of showing love for our children, our family, our friends and everyone else in between. Family and cultural traditions are passed from women to women at the kitchen table with typical aromas and flavors of our ancestors.

Little Lisa Cartagena knew that when her Abuela in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, made her feed the chicken in her backyard at 10 years old –chicken Abuela would then use to cook her delicious chicken soup–, she was preparing Lisa for the ride of her life: literally.

Because Lisa is the proud owner and chef at Lala’s Puerto Rican Kitchen, a food truck that is attracting lines of hungry New Jersey customers willing to try maduros, alcapurrias, pernil and so many other delicious specialties. Mouthwatering? Ni que hablar!

“Food was big in my house and so was discipline,” said Lisa to LIBizus. “Abuela was a perfectionist; at 8 years old, she taught me to make a bed with hospital corners. She taught me everything with the same discipline, a habit I carry into my cooking: best ingredients and unique dishes cooked the old school Puerto Rican style.”

However, Lisa’s passion was not clear at a younger age. She dreamed of being an artist and once she moved to The Bronx at 15 years old, she attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and the School of Visual Arts in New York City, obtaining an Associate Degree in Textile Design.

“In the city, music was always around me. My father was a famous record producer of musicians such as Johnny Ventura and the Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. I used to cook for my father, his friends and for the bands; I used to cook when I was depressed or nervous because cooking made me happy but I still couldn’t see the connection,” Lisa said.

She was 19 when she moved to Hell’s Kitchen, a famous Manhattan neighborhood, and met her husband, Frank Mojica, who happened to be a butcher. They moved together into a small studio apartment. Lisa continued cooking for friends and small family events, parties, anniversaries and reunions.

“I remember telling my husband I couldn’t find good ‘old school’ Puerto Rican food in Manhattan. Sounds funny, with all the Puerto Ricans living in the city, right? We starting fantasizing about opening a restaurant but we had no funds for the venture,” she remembers.

Lala's Puerto Rican Kitchen food truck in Old Bridge NJ

Lala’s Puerto Rican Kitchen food truck in Old Bridge NJ

They came up with the idea of a food truck, a trailer they could move around or park at a certain place but the amount of money for permits to open a restaurant, health inspections, rent to operate on somebody’s property or permit to park on a public space were overwhelming in the city. “If the cost of a license to operate the food truck at a certain location was $8000 in Brooklyn, in Manhattan was $20,000,” Lisa explains.

Lisa and her husband looked then at other possibilities across the Hudson River. They researched areas heavily populated by Latinos, especially Puerto Ricans, such as Old Bridge and Perth Amboy in New Jersey. “We prayed every day to find a spot for over a year,” she said.

Lisa Cartagena working at the food truck sketches

Lisa Cartagena working at the food truck sketches

In the meantime, Lisa started applying her creative juices to her food truck image. Day and night, with her inherited perfectionism, she would sketch ideas so the truck would also convey the “old school Puerto Rican cooking” brand she so much loved. After a few months, and once she was almost satisfied with the results, the sketching pad she was working on suddenly disappeared.

“It was around my birthday and I didn’t’ think much of it. We had been moving around and I thought the pad would show up eventually. The day of my birthday, my husband invited me to dine out to what he called ‘the best Puerto Rican food he could find.’ He blindfolded me and after driving for a while, he stopped the car, asked me to look and there it was: the most wonderful food truck imprinted with the beautiful sketches I had been working on. I got into tears, my dream was coming true,” she shares.

With half of the battle already conquered, Lisa and her husband now had to find a place to park and attract clientele. “Frank used to drive up and down Route 9 South in the Old Bridge area. He was fixated with a little white house on the side of the road. One day, he decided to knock at the door. The owner, a little old lady 90 years of age, living by herself in her old farm, opened the door, listened to what my husband had to say, and she agreed to sign a lease with us. I firmly believe God works in mysterious ways,” Lisa said with emotion.

Lala’s Puerto Rican Kitchen opened on March of 2014. Almost 70 people were waiting in line when the side window was finally lifted. Through social media promotion, and with active participation of friends and business acquaintances, Lala’s Kitchen has not had a bad day since.

“I realized that all my life came together in this project: my creative side from my father, my cooking and perfectionism from mi Abuela, and the happiness I share with my clients through the food I cook. Almost every day I hear words of gratitude or blessings from my customers. ‘Dios the bendiga, Lala,’ people say, and it sounds like I finally was able to build a little piece of Boricua heaven for all of them,” she concluded.

Lisa Cartagena, owner and chef at Lala's Puerto Rican Kitchen with a customer

Lisa Cartagena, owner and chef at Lala’s Puerto Rican Kitchen with a customer

 

You can follow Lisa on Twitter @lisalalaloca and ask her questions about her business. You can also visit Lala’s Puerto Rican Kitchen’s website to know about her specials every day.

Watch this video of the Gran Combo de Puerto Rico and Johnny Venture.

 

 

Embrace life even when it sucks

How to embrace life even when it sucks

Embrace life even when it sucks

 

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it,” wrote M. Scott Peck in his book The Road Less Traveled. “Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it then life is no longer difficult.”

I recently ran across an old professional acquaintance. I originally met this person around 15 years ago. At the time he was on a professional trajectory that I figured would get him to retirement by 40. To be completely honest, I was a little jealous of him at the time and I recall frequently comparing myself to him to find out what made him so much more successful.

I lost touch with him for many years as he moved onward and upward. Several years ago we reconnected on Facebook. Unlike me, he is not a social media freak. As such, I didn’t learn too much about his personal life other than information gleaned from the occasional post – usually made by someone else.

Read:    10 Inspirational tips from successful people

After a networking event not too long ago I bumped into him and we decided to grab a drink. I wasn’t planning on sticking around after the event but I figured I would wait out Los Angeles rush hour traffic with a glass of cabernet.

In speaking with Joseph (not his real name) I learned that he had in fact done very well in the 10 years or so after I lost touch. He became a “player” in his area of expertise. He made a lot of money and was a known entity.

Unfortunately, like so many, he became a victim of the Great Recession. His business was flattened and after so many years he found himself standing on the ground with the rest of us.

It had been a few years and Joseph had not recovered his mojo. After hearing his story and the manner in which he conveyed it I could tell that the recession affected not only his business portfolio, but also how he viewed himself. His entire self-worth was tied into his business success. This was probably because all he had experienced was one success after another.

At this point I would be lying if I didn’t say that the conversation was making me completely uncomfortable. Sitting in rush hour traffic was sounding better and better. I was not Joseph’s close friend. I don’t consider myself the “touchy feely” type that likes this kind of stuff. All I could think about was my wife’s words of wisdom to me when she has a similar moment – “I don’t want you to solve my problem. I just want you to listen and acknowledge me.” So I did.

After Joseph was done sharing some fairly heavy stuff he asked for my advice. I really wasn’t prepared – nor trained to give advice. I was actually a bit shell shocked. But I managed to offer the two bits of advice:

  1. Life Is Difficult. One of the few memories I have of my high school theology class was a book by M. Scott Peck.

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it,” wrote Peck in this book The Road Less Traveled. “Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it then life is no longer difficult.”Something Wonderful Is About To Happen

I’ve had some pretty high highs and some pretty low lows. At times I have equated my life to a roller coaster. The one thing that has kept me from going insane, and what I thought Joseph needed to recognize is that Life IS difficult.

Life is not supposed to be a linear upward ride of success and good times. It just doesn’t work that way. Some people, like Joseph, have great extended periods of success. Others have more typical ebbs and flows. Regardless, if we are to remain sane in business, and in life, we must acknowledge that system is made to challenge us.

Once you understand how the game of life works then setbacks are not viewed so much as failures but instead they are just a part of the game. And while setbacks may not be fun, they are normal – even with the most successful business person. So long as you are upright and in the game you have another shot at success and scoring another point.

  1. It’s Another Day in Paradise. If you have ever worked with me or met me somewhere and asked me, “how are you?” chances are 99.9% that you have heard the following response from me: “Another day in paradise!”

I’m not sure at what point I picked up this habit. But I have become known as the Paradise Guy. Every day that we wake up we have a choice. We can make it a good day or we can make it a crappy day. Which would you prefer?

Back in May 2014 I wrote about the importance of smiling when making sales calls, whether in person or on the phone. The concept of emotional contagion generally states that good vibes create more sales. As such, the key to a day of productive sales calls begins with the right attitude. On top of having more sales or a more productive day, who doesn’t prefer good vibes over bad vibes?

Today, regardless of how tired I am, how much stress I am under, how well or how horrible the day’s events have gone, it’s just Another Day in Paradise. And that seems to help.

 

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Havi Goffan the genie behind Target Latino

Claudia "Havi" Goffan, principal at Target Latino

Claudia “Havi” Goffan, principal at Target Latino

The Latino market is an ever evolving moving target that companies aim at with varying results. Finding a tool that would uncover the spending habits of your desired Hispanic audience is almost grabbing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Target Latino has long developed a methodology to identify Hispanics online independently of their language or level of acculturation.

Because of its bilingual, bicultural and multi-layered nature, Hispanics have been the focus of numerous market research strategies. Following trend after trend, and many times (miss) guided by Hispanic advertising agencies, American companies have tried and erred on their quest to grab and hold this slippery fish.

“However, numbers don’t lie,” said Havi Goffan, multicultural marketing technologist and principal at Target Latino. “Our proprietary technology can identify Hispanics’ online habits –independently of the language they use– to be applied to ad monitoring and ad tracking. We also provide analytics of Hispanic targeted online advertising. Our exclusive intellectual property also allows for segmentation by country of origin, gender and age group,” she explained.

 Who is Claudia “Havi” Goffan? what-is-inbound-marketing-435x1030

An 18-year old curious woman about computers in Argentina few decades ago was not a common occurrence –I know because I am from the “pampas” – but rarer if she was interested in applying computer technology to marketing. Whaaaaat?

“Although I graduated with an MBA from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), Argentina, and from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), I took my very first information technology class at the University of Buenos Aires back in 1978. I was interested in it not really as a career but as a field that allowed me to master certain tools. I took International Marketing classes concurrently with Artificial Intelligence (AI),” said Havi to LIBizus.

This fascination with business technology and marketing carried her over to the place she is today. An international keynote speaker and expert marketing technologist on culture, inbound marketing, content, SEO and Pinterest strategies, visionary Havi positioned her company around inbound marketing after the upheaval created by the 2000 Census. “It was crazy, every American company wanted to target Latinos,” she said.

She recognized the power of cultural knowledge as one of the pillars, together with technology and business savvy, in capturing the Hispanic market. “Instead of broadcasting a message to a market that might or might not be interested in what you have to offer, you get ready to be found when they are looking for you,” she explained.

Inbound marketing seems simple but we know not everybody can make it to the first page of Google results, much less for the same keyword,” Havi said. And inbound marketing is much more than Search Engine Optimization (SEO), email marketing, and blogging, she shared.

According to Target Latino research, over 42M Hispanics – or more than 65 percent of the U.S. Latino population – are online and 87 percent of user-generated search engine queries click on organic search results.

“Whatever it is that they are looking for, the Internet has changed the way Latinos decide what to buy and who to buy from. There are only 10 places on Google’s first page. It’s not just about language anymore; it is about culture and relevance,” Havi explained.

Here are some stats Havi shared with LIBizus:

  • B2B companies that create content have 67% more leads per month than those who do not. (Social Media B2B)
  • 80% of the people ignore Google paid ads (Search Engine Land)
  • 75% of the online population never go further than the first page of search engines results (Hubspot)
  • People want to be in control of the content they receive: 86% skip commercials, 44% of direct mail goes unopened. (Content Marketing Institute)
  • Articles with images have 94% more views (Content+)
  • Around 60% of the population has a visual style of learning
  • 58% of consumers trust editorial content.

“Companies need to develop everything and anything that will drive the prospect to them when THEY are searching for their products or services. Unfortunately, most companies still don’t get it and continue to practice outbound marketing. And here is one more reason to grasp: According to Search Engine Journal, inbound leads are 60 percent less expensive than outbound leads,” Havi concluded.

She has been recognized as an expert in Latino Marketing by CNN en Español, and featured in CNN, Adweek, AmEx Open Forum, Univision, Telemundo, HuffPo, AARP Viva, Abasto Media, and others.