Alex Paredes and his wife, Fanny Lostaunau, originally from Peru, have brought the flavors of their homeland to South Florida through their brand, Panka, specializing in Peruvian tamales. Their journey began in the mid-2000s when they sought additional family income. They started making tamales for friends and family and later decided to formalize their venture. As sales grew, they expanded to local markets and supermarket cafeterias. In 2015, Alex left his full-time job to focus on large-scale tamale production and acquired their own commercial facilities in Hialeah to meet growing demand.
By the end of 2022, Alex and Fanny obtained USDA permits to sell their packaged products in retail. With support from consultants at the Small Business Development Center at FIU (SBDC FIU), they developed a clear business plan and financial projections for retail growth. However, capital was the missing piece of the puzzle.
The couple needed funding for equipment, production capacity, efficiency improvements, and working capital. They explored several lenders but faced rejection or inadequate offers. Then, an SBDC consultant recommended contacting the Community Fund of North Miami Dade (CFNMD). Their application resulted in approval for not one but two Miami-Dade small business financing programs simultaneously. This is thanks to a collaboration between CFNMD, and The Miami Foundation with Partners For Self Employment (PSE), who operate the Miami Open For Business program. The combination of both programs provided access to all the capital they needed at a much lower cost. Among others, The Miami Open For Business program offers grants for technology or equipment and loans at a 3% interest rate for specific uses.
Improvements Across the Board
Securing additional funds enabled Panka to make several key improvements. Enhanced equipment significantly increased production capacity, making it easier to recruit and retain workers. Productivity soared, reducing unit costs. Distribution costs decreased as the delivery van was upgraded with refrigeration and insulation, allowing for more efficient routes, and ensuring products reached customers at the right temperature.
Panka also expanded its customer base to include local Latino supermarkets like Bravo, Foodtown, Key Food, El Bodegon, Broward Meat & Fish, and others. With support from the Miami Business Development Agency Export Center (MBDA Export Center), they opened doors to other chains, securing placement in nine Sedanos stores. Working with clients like Sedanos has required the company to make changes in distribution materials that make deliveries more efficient, and these improvements have translated into how they operate with other customers. Thus, "being able to meet the standards of working with a client like Sedanos makes it easier to enter other supermarkets, as they already know that you operate at that level," says Alex.
It Takes a Village to Raise a Business
Fully committed to growing their company, Alex and Fanny sought support to structure operations and increase sales. In 2017, they participated in the StartUp FIU Food Incubator, receiving guidance on compliance and customer attraction. SBDC consultants at FIU helped them create a business plan and financial projections, and they were connected with CFNMD, MBDA, The Miami Foundation, and Partners For Self Employment (PSE) for access to capital and clients.
"Without the help of all these organizations, we would be at home working because that’s where we started. We would still be at home. We would never have dared to rent a warehouse because you don't have the knowledge, and you think you don't have the ability to execute. Why? Because if you don't turn to all the mentioned institutions, you have no idea how things work here (in the United States)," says Alex. "The support of all these organizations is very helpful. I would say it's 80% of what a person needs to become an entrepreneur."
Tips for Other Entrepreneurs
• Execute the Plan: Insist, Persist, and Never Give Up: Alex advises other entrepreneurs to insist on their ideas and create a business plan based on their true needs. "You start with a business idea, but you need to make a plan and execute it. When I say execute, I mean, persist with the idea because you grow. I'm experiencing it, and it also involves the family," referring to the committed work not only of the couple but also of their son, who is involved in the business alongside his university studies.
• Operate Formally: Alex recommends maintaining a good credit record, and operating formally such as obtaining the required permits and licenses, having an accountant, or using QuickBooks to demonstrate income. This ensures access to resources, as institutions often require such documentation.