“I am on a mission right now to showcase that entrepreneurship is a viable option for folks, regardless of your immigration status,” said Alejandro Flores-Muñoz, owner of Denver’s Combi Taco. “Every single person in my family and others in my community can have the right tools to get started.”
Flores-Muñoz is an entrepreneur. He’s also a DACA recipient, an activist, and an educator who leads workshops for undocumented people looking to start their own businesses. He is among a group of Latinx-led business owners who have found their own paths to success in Denver.
“Only In Denver: A Mi Manera” is a Square series highlighting these businesses, with each entrepreneur discussing the importance of how their culture and heritage shapes their work. A Mi Manera, or My Way, is a reflection of the owners’ courage to do things on their own terms, to reach their personal definitions of success, and to demonstrate the positive impact their businesses have on the Denver community and beyond. Only In will continue to explore other cultures, cities, and businesses, and tell the stories of the people behind them.
Episode 1: Mi Vida Strings
Mi Vida Strings is a family-run shop that specializes in making, repairing and restoring high quality string instruments. Eric Trujillo, who started the business, grew up in a family of artisans, musicians and mechanics, and he values his ability to continue the tradition of using his hands for creative work.
“The violin world is traditional in a lot of senses,” Trujillo said. “You see a lot of them tend to look the same from your traditional European kind of a school. Mi Vida Strings sounding hispanic, we worried about how it would catch on in the violin community. But I knew that I could do just as good of work as any violin shop could. I wanted people to see that I just happen to be a chicano.”
Trujillo, a lifelong Denver resident, has brought his children into the fold of his luthier trade and performs mambo music at local venues when he’s not working on his craft.
“I just want to be known as a good person who strived for quality and show kids that look like me that you can do things at the highest level in any kind of artform that you choose to,” he added. “You just have to go out and do the work.”
Episode 2: Antojitos La Poblanita
Elizabel and Maria Urrieta migrated from Puebla, MX, in the early 2000s, and together, they opened Antojitos La Poblanita, a Mexican restaurant in Denver’s Sun Valley neighborhood. Through the flavors of Puebla, they share their culture with the people of Denver and beyond.
“Being here, like my sister says, ‘You fall in love with this country,’” said Elizabel Urrieta, owner of Antojitos La Poblanita. “It gives you what you could never have at home. I came here — well, as we say, right? — to have a better life. The hardest part … well … leaving my family. But I said it’s something that is worth it, and we hope that it is.”
Episode 3: Cultura Chocolate
For Damaris Ronkanen, Cultura Chocolate is more than a business. Her bean-to-bar chocolate-making company in Denver’s Westwood neighborhood has become a pathway to reconnecting with her Latin roots and a place to cultivate and empower communities locally and abroad.
“Chocolate, for me, is symbolic of my heritage,” Ronkanen said. “Seeing it from the cacao pod to the chocolate bar is so beautiful, and it’s what inspires me to make chocolate.”
Episode 4: Steadyhand Barber
When Gabriel Maestas discovered his passion for cutting hair, his path became clear. He linked up with his friend from school, Diego Carreon, and together they opened Steadyhand Barber Co., a barber shop in Denver’s Montclair neighborhood.
“We chose to create Steadyhand and establish ourselves in Denver because this is my home,” Maestas said. “Deciding to take that leap, that was a very challenging thing. I didn’t want to continue building a brand or a legacy for somebody else, and I really wanted to build something for my wife and daughter, something that I could call my own. I knew that if I was gonna work hard and put forth all my heart and soul into something, that it was going to work out.”
Episode 5: Combi Taco
Alejandro Flores-Muñoz is the founder of Combi Taco, a contemporary Mexican coffee shop in Littleton, a suburb outside of Denver, and Stokes Poke, a fresh poke food truck.
“I know I don’t have it made yet,” he said. “I know that I have so much more to learn, to grow. However, I am in a position that I would have otherwise not been if it wasn’t for the groundwork that other folks have put in before me.”