Today we are bringing you a story about an amazing woman, Montserrat Ayala García. She is an immigrant and successful businesswoman from Mexico, but it hasn’t always been that way. Montserrat moved to Silicon Valley, CA nine years ago, and soon realized that she had left her family and her community behind. Without much support and not having a good command of English, she struggled to find her place in life and her passion.
Employed, but still searching to start something on her own that would go beyond just making money, Monserrat and her husband decided to try making and selling juices. They opened a stand at a San Jose farmer’s market is 2014.
After learning that her degree in Psychology from a university in Mexico was not valid in the US, she had to decide whether to go back to school or look for a new career. It was her husband who then encouraged her to go to networking events, and soon she started a job in social services helping other immigrants like herself.
“I always wanted to run my own business. I wanted to do something where I am not just focused on making money. I have a passion to be able to offer healthier options to my community.”
There were other Mexican food stands on the market, however those sold mostly fried foods. Monserrat wanted to bring healthy Mexican food to people in her area. She and her husband called their juice stand Vitamina.
“In Mexico we grow up with a juice stand on each corner. These fresh juices are called ‘licuados’ and you make them with fruits, milk, honey, oatmeal – it is a full breakfast!”
The juice stand was popular and successful, so Monserrat and her husband decided to expand the business and open their own juice bar location.
With the support of her husband and the community, Montserrat opened the doors of Vitamina juice bar in San Jose in October 2015. “In the first years with Vitamina as our baby, it was impossible to have a balanced life. As we became more stable, people were telling me when to hire more people and then I knew it was time for me to take a step back. I am still there working a few days a week at the juice bar, but in general I am just managing and going shopping.”
As their juice business grew, Facebook reached out and offered to try pilot program with them, opening a Vitamina location on the Facebook campus. Montserrat and her husband decided to go for it. They worked alongside the Facebook culinary and design teams to build the location and settle on a menu. Monserrat recalls that it was an immersive learning experience, and that if somebody would have told her a few years before that she would be opening a juice bar on the Facebook campus, she wouldn’t have believed it.
Unfortunately, after all of that hard work, the juice bar at the Facebook campus did not flourish and was only open a few months. Because it was operated a separate business, Facebook employees had to pay for the Vitamina juices whereas food at the campus cafeteria was free.
Feeling discouraged, but nevertheless having the strength to face the truth, Montserrat decided to fold their operations on Facebook campus. She refocused their efforts on the Vitamina store in San Jose, and her courage and decisiveness paid off.
Today, Vitamina is flourishing serving juices and fruit bowls to their customers and Montserrat is thinking of expanding into nearby cities.
“Learning how to ask for help was one of the most important things I learned during those years.”
Looking back, Montserrat recalls that there were many people who helped her on her journey. Once she started to ask for help, people she didn’t know very well, some near strangers, reached out to help her navigate the complicated business scene.
“The Language barrier was a huge challenge! It is not the same to talk in Spanish than in English. I didn’t know the system and how to negotiate a contract, understand documents, write a business plan, talk to an architect, and ask for a loan. Everything was an issue.”
Montserrat also emphasizes the importance of having the ability to push through difficulties, face them, and show up. She recalls that she used to tell herself , “Montse, if you don’t show up for yourself, nobody else wilI. Forget about the embarrassment— it’s ok that you don’t speak perfect English—stop being ashamed of your accent. Just show up.”
We asked Montserrat what advice would she give to other women in business.
“Talk to as many people as you can, you never know who is going to be listening to you!”