Entrepreneur Insights: An Interview with Celina Lopez of Cruzita's Deli and Cafe

This week, I’m super excited to feature Celina Lopez of Cruzita’s Deli and Cafe based out of Huntington Park, CA.

Everyone has their own process when becoming a food entrepreneur, so I wanted to ask Celina about hers to get her perspective on everything from working with family to fears to marketing!

Check it below!

Celina Lopez. Photo by  Kristine Tomaro .

Celina Lopez. Photo by Kristine Tomaro.

What was the motivation or reason to start Cruzita’s?

The motivation behind Cruzita’s was financial independence. We wanted financial independence to be able to practice the types of things we wanted to see in our underserved communities. We felt that by empowering ourselves as food entrepreneurs, we could give back to our community. In this case: quality food, coffee, and a space for our community to collaborate, share resources, exchange ideas, sit back, eat, and relax.

What is Cruzita’s mission?

Our mission is to cultivate community through good food and coffee while supporting other local, socially-conscious small businesses, and promoting community events.

I’ve talked to other small business owners who go into business with their families. How is it working alongside your mom?

Working alongside my mom is a privilege, but it’s also been a challenge. We’ve had our share of disagreements and we’ve had to learn how to maneuver our sacred bond and set clear boundaries.

My mom is the most hard working person I know and I’ve learned so much from her about independence and strong work ethic. I feel that she has also learned from me. Aside from cooking/prep techniques and different approaches to management, I think that there is an inevitable cultural, intergenerational exchange that happens when you work with your parent. I would be lying if I said it was easy, but it has all been worth it so far. My mom is the most hardcore person I know!

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As you said, Cruzita’s supports other socially-conscious small businesses, such as using Patria Coffee and stocking vegan goodies from Whiskful Pastries. Why those businesses specifically and how do they fit in with Cruzita’s overall values and vibe?

Yes, Cruzita’s prides herself in supporting local, socially-conscious businesses, providing dairy free, and plant based alternatives.

So far, our model has been to partner with companies that share the same vision of uplifting our communities through food entrepreneurship. We want to make sure that our money stays in our immediate, local economy.

We currently source our coffee from local Compton roaster, Patria Coffee. Geoffrey provides organic and ethically sourced coffee beans. When I first met Geoffrey, I instantly trusted and believed in his work. Their motto says it all, “Community is the goal. Coffee is the method.”

We currently source vegan pastries from Wendy Ortega of Whiskful Pastries. Wendy’s company is based in Lynwood and her ingredients are sourced locally. She also believes that our community deserves quality alternatives and is taking a hands-on approach through her vegan creations.

We also source some of our sandwich bread from Homeboy Industries Bakery, located in Chinatown, Los Angeles. Homeboy Industries supports formerly incarcerated men and women by providing job training skills. We pride ourselves in supporting a local economy all while providing quality fresh ingredients to our community!

How did you build your customer base?

For the first couple of years, our customer base were our friends, family, colleagues, students from the community, local non profits, and local community organizers who shared our vision. Having roots in the community helped build Cruzita’s. Word of mouth and social media helped and continues to help build our customer base.

How do you market your business and which tactics have been the most successful?

We’ve  tried many, but I feel that there is still room from growth on that end. So far, our most successful and practical tactic has been social media. Our network of friends tagging and sharing their latest visit, drinks, and food items have helped put Cruzita’s on the radar. Collaborating with other locals and hosting community events have also helped market our business.

How do you come up with new ideas of what to serve at Cruzita’s?

That is an ongoing process. As a food entrepreneur, anything can trigger a new idea. Taking a walk through the farmers market, visiting a new place, watching a documentary, reading a new book/recipe, cooking something new at home, even visiting my tia’s house can trigger a new idea.

Most of our food is part of a static menu for practical reasons, but we also have a seasonal specials menu that gives us the freedom to play with a new recipe or to highlight seasonal ingredients that we come across at our local farmers market. My approach to a new idea is always to make it practical in order for us to be efficient and consistent in our kitchen space.  Flavorful, nutritious, and practical. That’s why I love playing with new agua fresca recipes, smoothies, toasts, and salads.

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What are the pros + cons of being an entrepreneur?

Pros: you’re your own boss.

Cons: you’re your own boss.

You are accountable for all of it. You have the freedom to be creative, to pay yourself what you deserve, to help others, but you also have a high level of risk. You have to take ownership of all of your different responsibilities. However, the feeling you get when you see all of your hard work paying off and seeing the potential to serve your community is priceless.

What drives you to keep going when it’s really tough?

I always tell myself that if I’m going to work hard, it might as well be towards the things I care about. For me, the desire to help my mom, my family, my community, my love for autonomy, and understanding the work that it takes to live those moments of victory are what keeps me going.

What is your greatest fear about entrepreneurship and how do you manage that fear?

My greatest fear about entrepreneurship is not being able to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I don’t want to overwork myself.

In the beginning I felt that I needed to be working 24/7. I’ve learned to let go a little more. I want to trust our team, set boundaries, and take the time to evaluate and regroup our thoughts around what we are trying to do and how we are going to do it. I guess you could say that focusing on our short term goals has helped manage my fears.

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How do you define success?

Short term success:

Wanting to show up to work every morning, having a good breakfast, staying inspired, inspiring others, and feeling confident in my work.

Long term success:

Being able to create a system that improves my life, my mother’s life, family’s life. my team’s life, and the lives of the people around us. Everybody wants to live a good life.

Do you think there is a formula or pattern to becoming a successful food-based entrepreneur?

I think it’s different for everybody. Especially, in the food industry. There are so many ways to approach food-based entrepreneurship. We all want to succeed in sustaining our business. I do believe you have to have the “ganas” to want to work with food. You have to find something that keeps you accountable on your hardest days. All else will follow. I am working every day to become successful and that means staying open to learning and knowing where we stand in the game.

If you could pick 1 single thing you wish you knew before starting entrepreneurship with Cruzita’s, what would that be?

I wish I knew that no one has it all figured out. I grew up hearing my mom saying that, but it took me awhile to realize that. It has helped calm those overwhelming fears of failure.  

What piece of advice would you give other mujeres thinking about starting their own food business?

Start small. Practice your vision at home, with your friends and family. Believe in what you are doing, 100 percent. Trust your intuition.

Celina’s mama, Cruzita.

Celina’s mama, Cruzita.

You can check out Cruzita’s on IG (<-click!) for more info or visit them at:

Cruzita’s Deil and Cafe

7121 State St.

Huntington Park, CA 90255

*All photos from Cruzita’s IG, except where noted.

Stephanie ParraComment