Mariana Restrepo (pictured below) is a second-year BBA-LLB student from the Segovia campus and creator of La Areperia by Restrepo – a business dedicated to providing healthier alternatives to take out in Segovia through home-made arepas, a traditional Colombian and Venezuelan dish.
Image source by Mariana Restrepo
I spoke to Mariana to find out more about her business and the process and journey that comes with starting a small business:
First of all, what inspired you to start an arepas business?
It all started because, in Colombia, you eat a lot of Arepas – there are over 10 types of arepas. In Latin America, we don’t eat much at night -usually arepas with ham and cheese, something simple. I got used to that.
The first time someone told me to sell them was this year, and they pushed me to do it. It was my friends from class. I switched my degree in the second semester of my first year, so I started to become very close with my new classmates in the first semester of this year. So, I invited the girls over and told them I would make arepas. I made them with cheese, and they told me, “No, you should start to sell them.”
So I got the idea in my mind and thought maybe I should start, but I was too scared to do it: What if they are not good enough, what happens if nobody buys them?
But then, my friends from Colombia started to push me to do it too, to calculate all the costs and expenses and how much I could sell them to make a profit. I’m grateful for them pushing me because I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.
So I calculated how much it would cost me to make one filled with cheese and the hogao – a typical Colombian tomato and onion sauce (which is delicious).
A few months ago, on my Instagram, I put a story saying, “Hi, I am officially selling arepas!” It was super chill. I wasn’t planning on selling, but people started to respond, saying they wanted one.
I created and formalized the official account a week or 10 days ago. I set the price, I put it on social media everywhere. My friends also shared the stories on their accounts.”
Why did you decide to sell arepas specifically?
Because I like to embrace my home country, and since I have lived abroad almost all of my life, I want to get closer to my country’s gastronomy and let people know that Latin America has amazing food that is simple but is super tasty, super good, and also cheap! I want Europeans – or anyone really – to get closer to Colombia and Venezuela.
Where does the name La Areperia by Restrepo come from?
I’ve had the name for a while. At first, I wanted the name ‘l’Areperia,’ but I just made it La Areperia by Restrepo because many people have known me by my last name since our 1st semester at IE.
What have been the challenges so far in opening your business?
First of all, for me to start selling and creating the business.
As I said before, I was scared that nobody would buy them and people wouldn’t like them because I know people are picky about food. That was my main challenge in getting started.
Another challenge was setting a reasonable price: I would make a profit, but customers would be happy about it. That was my main conflict because I put a lot of effort and energy into it, but if I set them at a lower price, the margin wouldn’t be that great, so I had to set them at a price where people would be willing to pay, and I would be happy with what I make.
What challenges do you still face?
Finding more diverse fillings for the arepas. The traditional arepas are made of meat, which is difficult to make and takes a lot of time, but in the future, I will try.
[For now,] I will focus on the ones I have in mind. Also, I’ve been asking my current customers what they would like inside the arepa – other than the reina pepiada or cheese.
Another of the most significant challenges I’m facing is managing my time and how much time to make before selling and getting everything ready. Since I just started, I need to learn.
What are your plans for the future of your business?
My next step for the business is to reach a greater audience.
Now, most of my customers are people who know me personally or know my friends, but I would like to reach out to more first-year students because I know many of them to live in residences where they may not be able to cook, or the food might get is not so great or healthy.
I want to focus on making my business healthy and natural with 0 pre-made products. For example, when I make hogao sauce, I won’t buy tomato sauce. I’ll make the tomato sauce from scratch and do the whole process with tomatoes, onions, etc.
Finally, if you could tell the IE community something – what would you tell them?
I would love to say thank you all for the support! It’s been insane the amount of support that I’ve received, the number of texts that I have gotten from people I only say hi to saying how proud they are, taking so much effort and love –it has motivated me a lot to continue with the businesses and grow it a bit more.
I love you all, and I hope my arepas are filling you and reminding you of when you are at home and when your parents would make you good home-cooked meals.
Also, I would say people should honestly confront their fears and not be afraid to start their businesses. It takes a big step into making something you like to please people and yourself. If you are afraid of people not liking your business, try it – you don’t lose anything by trying.
We are excited to watch Mariana and her business grow as she continues to represent, share, and teach the community about Colombian culture and food and provide IE students in Segovia with healthy home-cooked alternative meals – and, as she puts it, something to remind you of home.
Make sure to support La Areperia by Restrepo on Instagram @restreposareperia!