We introduce Liliana Ávila founder of Coco Loco Food Truck
Liliana Ávila is from Boyacá, Colombia. She prepares delicious latin cuisine dishes such as empanadas, arepas and frozen foods from Latin America.
Liliana tells us that she started with her Food Truck, Coco Loco, to promote her products and publicize how her meals are prepared and served. Liliana prepares the products, freezes and delivers them to restaurants and related businesses. In Coco Loco they have fried empanadas, egg arepas, stuffed, and from time to time they do catering for special events with dishes such as lechona, choripanes or Mexican food.
What are the foods you miss the most from Colombia?
I come from Boyacá, which is a region in Colombia known for its agriculture and farming; similar to Waikato in New Zealand. The soups are very popular, the sancocho, the chiquita mazamorra, the rib broth and the almojábanas. It's difficult to make almojábanas in New Zealand because you can't get fresh cheese.
Liliana tells us that the products she likes the most from Tienda Pachamama are… all of them! She loves the variety of products in the store that includes Colombian, Peruvian, Chilean, Argentine and Uruguayan products. In particular, she is fascinated with the condiments, spices and seasonings and the variety of flours. Liliana says “the fact that there is so much variety of condiments, seasinings and spices at Tienda Pachamama allows us to cook our meals as we do in our countries, it's like being at home”.
Liliana's favorite latin spices and condiments are:
What led you to emigrate from Colombia to New Zealand?
The main reason that led me to emigrate was my daughter, Silvia. I wanted her to study in an English-speaking country. I applied to several countries for a visa, and the first visa that came out was New Zealand, so I came here! Silvia was 5 years old at the time.
After I applied for the visa, I studied and learn a lot about New Zealand. I learnt that it was a country with many opportunities, where children could study, play and grow up sorrounded by nature. We are safe here. Unfortunately, in some Latin American countries, including Colombia, there are lots ofxperience a lot of robberies and violence.
What was it like getting to New Zealand, what challenges did you have?
My first year was very difficult because my knowledge of English was not good and that made communications difficult. My first job was in a plastics company where many Latinos worked. I think many of us make this mistake, I mean working in a place where there are other latinos and only speaking Spanish. It makes learning English much harder.
I would recommend that new immigrants work in places where there are no other Latinos, and that they strive to only speak English, even if it is difficult at first. This way it's harder at the beginning but you learn much faster!
What led you to launch your business preparing and selling empanadas?
When I arrived in New Zealand I had no idea how to cook empanadas. My knowledge of English was limited so with a friend, we began searching for ideas, thinking what we could do.
We decided to sell food, and we thought of the Colombian empanadas; at that time there was no one selling them. I watched videos online, asked my family traditional recipes, and we started cooking! We tailored a family recipe and achieved some delicious empanadas, which are the ones that I still sell today.
So I decided to buy a food truck, it was bigger than the one I have now. My friend and I sold hot dogs, empanadas, tacos, everything! Then my friend went to Canada and I stayed with the business for a while until selling it later as I went back to my profession, which is an insurance advisor.
I worked as an insurance advisor until 2016, but then I got tired and decided to resume my project of selling Colombian empanadas, asnd...here we are!
How were the beginnings of Coco Loco in the local markets?
At the beginning we started selling at local markets but it was very hard!
We had to spend a lot of time explaining how empanadas are made, cooked, the ingredients they have, and talking to customers so that they would be encouraged to try something different.
Then they got to know us and people were eager to try our products. Now, we have a very good reception and we have as a project to introduce our products into supermarkets.
Liliana, you had a restaurant in Hamilton, tell us about that experience
Actually, the restaurant was not my planned project. Other people were going to open it in association with my partner. My partner was a financial investor, but it was the other associate who was going to manage the restaurant and take care of the day-to-day management. In the end, that person couldn't do it, so I took over the business. I had never run a restaurant before and had to learn everything from scratch. But I did it, and we won the International Award in Hamilton for the best restaurant in the area. It was a nice recognition!
What challenges did you have when you were in charge of the restaurant?
I had to learn to manage suppliers, staff and day-tody restaurant operations. It was very difficult at the beginning, but I got organized and did it. I worked with very nice people. I was lucky to have good staff and we did very well working together. The success of the restaurant was the Latin American food that we prepared. We had a nice selection of Argentine, Colombian, Chilean, Peruvian dishes. Of all the Latin American countries we had a dish, and that set us apart from the restaurants in Hamilton.
What challenges do you have with Coco Loco?
It is difficult to create and introduce new products! There is a lot of competition in the area of ethnic foods, mainly it comes from strong markets, such as the Chinese or Hindu. There is so much competition! Competing with them is difficult, they lower prices and have a much wider and more comfortable margin to do so, while we do not.
Why did you decide to participate in Pachamama Latin Market?
Since I was in Hamilton it occurred to me to organize and participate in the Latin markets. I participated in the solidarity market organized by Pachamama and I loved it! So, I decided to help and collaborate with the organization of their future markets. It was a really nice experience! A lot of latin people were eager to participate, there was a nice variety of products and services, very cool!
What do you like most about Pachamama Latin market?
I love the variety of foods and flavors that one can find, from all countries. Latinos have a very rich gastronomy and we should take advantage of this, grow and expand the market. Help to make it known more among New Zealanders, such as other ethnic markets like the Polynesian market in Otara, and also incorporate more variety of culturesand products, such as handicrafts. I believe that we can work together in a beautiful environment, helping each other and enjoying our rich culture.