Aug 02, 2015


Mi Mami: An Immigrant Entrepreneur in New York City

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abuela dominicana, women entrepreneurs, women businessowners, immigrant entrepreneur

Mami is 66 years old.  She gets up at 5AM to get ready for a long day of work at her small coffee shop in Manhattan.  She calls it el negocito (the small business).

She has the energy of lightning — she moves quickly around her apartment in the Bronx, and takes a speedy walk down to the train station every morning.  She’s taken that train ride from the Bronx to Manhattan 7,023 times over the past 27 years she’s owned her really tiny coffee shop.  By now, everything is perfectly timed:  she wakes up at 4:48AM, she’s leaves her apartment by 5:35AM and arrives to her destination by 6:10AM.

Upon arrival, she’s welcomed by a huge bag full of bread rolls, which the bread company delivers earlier in the morning.  Since she runs the coffee shop by herself, she prepares the sandwiches, makes the coffee and organizes the soda bottles in the refrigerator.

immigrant entrepreneur

She welcomes her customers with a big smile and a confident broken English.  Despite living in this country for the past 45 years, she says “kofi” for “coffee” and mixes her past and present tenses.  But what she might be missing in English fluency, she makes up in charisma.  Her customers love her.  Her day is filled with a fun and interesting group of customers that parade through her coffee shop daily.

 “Adriana, ¿que pasá?” older Puerto Rican gentlemen say out loud, as they enter the coffee shop.

“¿Comó está vecino? she replies with a smile.

Her well-to do White customers shower her with small gifts from their travels abroad, and expensive clothes they never had a chance to wear.  Mami loves collecting stuff from people.  From scarves, to handbags, to small televisions, mami is always happy to get something for free.  She then comes home and offers them to friends and family.

Adriana’s Coffee Shop is the place for immigrant factory workers to come and hang out during their lunch hour (1/2 an hour, really) and drink a cup of coffee and $2 sandwich made with love.  But the best part is the conversation with mami — those 5 or 10 minutes of charla about nothing and everything.  This is where women tear up about their cheating husbands, and gay guys come to share the latest in their love life.

The part I love the most about mami’s entrepreneurship practice is her use of a notebook to record transactions a fiao — which is like an I.O.U. – you buy now and pay later.  Many of mami’s customer’s can’t afford to pay for their lunch right away, so they often say:  “Adriana, anótame esto…” (record this), pointing to their lunch items.  Friday is pay day for many of them, and they all loyally pass by to clear their balance.

Unfortunately, as many of the factories around mami’s coffee shop have closed and moved abroad, she has lost a significant number of her regular customers.  The buildings that used to hold leather handbag factories are now being renovated into multi-million dollar luxury condominiums.  Although mami has had her coffee shop for the past 27 years, she’s also losing customers to the new fancy delicatessen down the corner, where you can purchase latte and cappuccino.

Mami has never taken a sick day, or skipped days due to snow storms.  The only time she’s ever closed the metal doors of her coffee shop have been to attend her children’s graduations. Her commitment to her negocito and her customers is admirable. I thank her for the valuable business lessons she’s taught me over the years.

Gracias mami!



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Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Dr. Perez-Litwin is the Founder & CEO of ELLA Leadership Institute, a multi-platform professional development organization designed to advance the careers and leadership of women. She's the creative force behind the LATINAS THINK BIG™ national tour, sponsored and live-streamed by Google.

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  1. Angelica, this is beautiful. <3 Now I know who to thank for your brilliance and drive. :) Your mami sounds like an amazing woman…definitely one worth emulating. Abrazo a los dos!

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin Angélica Pérez-Litwin says:

      Chantilly, I’m so glad you liked this post. I know you always enjoy my stories. I promise to write more of them ;)

  2. This post expresses the spirit and tenacity of a true entrepreneur. Thank you for honoring one of them!

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin Angélica Pérez-Litwin says:

      Dharma! I knew you would like this post on mami, especially because you’ve seen her at the coffee shop. I wish I had a picture of her climbing up on the countertop to get stuff from upstairs…LOL

  3. Que bella! What a fine example of what a strong woman can accomplish. Very inspiring.

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin Angélica Pérez-Litwin says:

      Letty! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! Yes, very inspiring, like many of our mother’s stories…

  4. What a sweet little cuenta. Thank you for sharing :)

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin Angélica Pérez-Litwin says:

      Gracias Juliana! I’m so glad you liked mami’s story.

      I appreciate your comment, amiga.


  5. Isabel Garcia says:

    Angelica, your mom is a very special human being. She works hard and has a very positive spirit. Your story reminds me of my father in so many ways as he runs his 25 year wholesale flower business. God bless your mami everyday!

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin Angélica Pérez-Litwin says:

      Isabel, I think we all have people like my mother in our lives, which is what makes us Latinos so unique. We have strong work and family values, and we’re not afraid to do what we gotta do to reach our goals. Would love to hear more about your father’s flower business.


  6. What a phenomenal story Angela! Thank you for allowing us to share in your mother’s success. Que lindas palabras!

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin Angélica Pérez-Litwin says:

      Gracias Vanessa. Sometimes you take these stories for granted because you see your parents do this day in and day out. But, yes, she’s definitely an inspiration to me.

      Your comment and support is greatly appreciated.



  7. A beautiful story. I live in NYC and see exactly what you’re talking about, a lot of high risers going up everywhere displacing many small shop owners. congratulations to your Mami for such beautiful inspirations for younger Latinas to follow.

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin Angélica Pérez-Litwin says:

      Gracias Edna! Yes, this whole displacement started some years ago. The area around her coffee shop has changed dramatically. I think she’s the last un-restored business there.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your support.


  8. Pero que belleza mi amiga! ahora se a quien salio este fenomeno. Tenia que haber una mama luchadora por ahi. Funny because mami asked me for a job two weeks after she became a widow. And we’re now in the process of basic computer training so she can start he very own blog. Dominican women from that generation are amazing! Dile a tu mami que aqui tiene una admiradora mas. Thank you for sharing her with us.

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin Angélica Pérez-Litwin says:

      Ana, I knew mami’s spirit would resonate with you. I have a feeling with have very similar Dominican mothers ;) You are right, Dominican women of their generation are really strong — emotionally, spiritually and physically.

      Would LOVE to see your mom’s new website! A spotlight interview on your mom would be awesome too!

  9. Great post! Soo proud of my Tia! She is the best!

  10. love it!

  11. Qué suerte, Angelica, de tener una madre así! Thanks for sharing her story. She sounds like an amazing human being. I could totally picture her in her negocito… qué linda fiándole a los que no pueden pagar. Qué Dios te la bendiga, amiga!

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin Angélica Pérez-Litwin says:

      Roxana! I love it when you pass by and leave such beautiful messages. You got me thinking how much more I should appreciate my mother, especially when you wrote “Que Dios te la bendiga…” That resonated. Thanks for the reminder.

      Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, amiga!

  12. Just. Plain. Beautiful.


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