Coqui the Chef: How a Puerto-Rican Entrepreneur Learned to Adapt and Thrive During the Pandemic
Written by Deborah Pantaleon, Project Coordinator of the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project.
Small business owners face an array of endless challenges ranging from money management to customer retention – issues that have heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tania Lopez, a NYC-based microentrepreneur, is no stranger to the difficulties of operating a small business. In 2013, Tania approached the City Bar Justice Center’s Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) as she sought assistance with her newly founded business, Coqui the Chef, a business driven by a social mission to teach the importance of food culture and eating healthy through in-person cooking classes and community events.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone indoors, Tania was faced with a financial crisis that threatened entrepreneurs everywhere. She said, “The pandemic made me realize nothing lasts forever and adapting was the way to survive. I knew I had to pivot but I didn’t want to be like everyone else.” She quickly realized she needed to restructure her business model and remain creative to keep Coqui the Chef afloat. Tania shifted her in-person community-based classes to an online format, and turned to what some might think an unconventional ally to identify best practices of hosting online events: gamers. When asked about her decision to turn to this online community, Tania responded, “They understand what equipment to use to avoid technical difficulties, and that’s one of the most important components to running an online class.” After much research and helpful insights, Coqui the Chef successfully hosted its first online cooking class in August 2020.
Tania’s shift to online cooking classes has turned her small business into a sustainable one. She has expanded her reach through social media messaging, and no longer has to travel with heavy equipment throughout NYC to provide services. This change has allowed her to accept more clients, and in doing so, she has built an even larger and stronger customer base.
By year-end, Coqui the Chef saw a boost in business as customers sought ways to stay connected with loved ones during the holidays and engage in new experiences from the comfort and safety of their homes. In December, NELP asked Tania to host the City Bar Justice Center’s virtual holiday staff party. During the event, Tania transported a group of cold, snowed-in New Yorkers to “La Isla del Encanto” while making pastelillos and coquito (two staple items at every Puerto Rican Christmas dinner table). The cooking class was coupled with a brief lecture on Puerto Rican culture, fostering a deeper appreciation for the meal. In Tania’s own words, “It’s education and entertainment… It’s edutainment!”
When we asked Tania how she felt about the progress of her business and the changes she has implemented, she said “I truly am in love with my company again! It has taken a whole new turn and has brought out the best in me.” She has one piece of advice for her fellow business owners struggling to stay open: “Don’t be afraid of feedback! Get involved in all the help your city/state offers for small businesses, whether it’s courses, networking, community work, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be curious!”
To learn more about Coqui the Chef and to stay up to date on upcoming virtual events, visit their website: www.coquithechef.com.