Entrepreneurship in Petare: El Encantado

Entrepreneurship in Petare: El Encantado

Antonio Moreno, young Petareño, known by everyone in "El Encantado", South Petare as the son of Micheal Jackson, was offered the seed investment, the necessary machinery and a place in the shopping mall “Centro Comercial Terrazas del Avila” to start his very own bakery, the opportunity of a lifetime but he asked himself - why would he open his bakery in a shopping mall, if his own street didn’t have one? 

I’ve always felt particularly inspired and moved by Venezuelans who, despite what they are going through, have the energy and the drive to start their own businesses and companies, betting on the “sinking ship” that most people are forced to flee from. I believe that being an entrepreneur in Venezuela in the current crisis is an act of rebellion and the ultimate profession of love to a country made of people that refuse to give up. To do this with joy in the midst of the despair that blackouts and a minute to minute inflation rates pose, represents the strongest show of strength.

Antonio Moreno is one of the most joyful people I’ve ever met, his energy is contagious and warm. He is known by most as Micheal Jackson’s son, and has lived in El Encantado, South Petare his entire life.

Antonio is aware of what people outside of Petare think of his barrio, it’s the place where “malandros” [venezuelan slang word for muggers] hide, nevertheless, with his work he’s trying to change the image that people have of Petare. 

Antonio began to work at age 14 in a local restaurant, as a dishwasher. He recalls working extra shifts in exchange for the chance to take his girlfriend on a date to the same restaurant he worked at.  “Imagine a 15 year old boy taking his girlfriend to a restaurant”- He says with a dreamy smile. He then studied at the culinary school “Instituto Superior Mariano Moreno” in an uptown part of Caracas, where he specialized in baking.

He was the only one of his class who came from Petare and he remembers being the only person to take the bus back home. After graduating, one of his professors offered him the deal of a lifetime: he would give him the seed investment, the necessary machinery and a place in the shopping mall “Centro Comercial Terrazas del Avila” to start his very own bakery! 

This seemed like a dream come true as Antonio had always dreamed of having his own bakery. After a couple of weeks though, he became disillusioned  by the idea, he asked himself - why would he open his bakery in a shopping mall, if his own street didn’t have a bakery? Antonio constantly asked himself why he had to go to places like “Las Mercedes” to have a good meal, or to enjoy a delicious pastry.

He wanted to start a business, but right there, in the place where he was born and raised and had called home his whole life.

Of course there are shops in Petare and street food stalls, and places where people can have lunch, but Antonio was aiming for something bigger. He wanted his barrio to have places as nice as those in the planned city, with embroidered napkins, and bread with custom made packaging that spoke of the story of his barrio. His professor and former boss, wasn’t going to risk investing in Petare, so he gave him some silverware as a gift, sold him some appliances and wished him luck. 

Antonio got his close friend Moises on board as his partner. He then began baking bread at  his own house and selling them on his mother’s porch. They began developing different types of bread which they named after the most important places in their barrio: bread that tastes like “La Ceiba”, another one that tasted like “Matapalo” that honored the identity of their barrio and the story behind it. Soon enough their bread gained fame and little by little they gained more and more clients, they started facing problems due to a lack of machinery to make larger amounts of bread at a time.

Antonio always says that “En tiempos de crisis las mentes brillantes logran el éxito”, this translates into “in times of crisis, bright minds reach success”, so what should’ve been the biggest set back turned into his biggest motivation.They began building their own machinery from used parts of broken down home appliances and scrap material.

Antonio is convinced they can overcome any obstacle through inventiveness, that’s how they built their dough sheeting machine with an old washing machine electric motor, the timing belt of a run down car, the steel doors of a broken down refrigerator, a bicycle wheel, old steel pipes and various metal parts of run down cars, saving them over 2500 dollars.

Antonio knows that “People want good things, quality things,” the crisis has taken a lot away from people and Antonio says that it also made people forget that they deserve quality in any service. The regulation of prices, trained people to believe that accessible services and goods shouldn’t have good quality and don’t have to be delivered with care. Antonio says people forgot they deserved care, regulation of prices destroyed competition, the customer's needs failed to be important anymore. There are bakeries in Petare but none of them do what Antonio and Moises do. Antonio tries to make his customers feel valued and satisfied with their products and does what they have to do to get the best prices and the best products. Their profit is very low per product so they aim to sell as much as they  can produce.

They go as far as “El Mercado de Coche” (approximately an hour away from Petare) and “La Colonia Tovar” (approximately 2 hours away from Petare) to get the best quality products at the best possible price. He believes that by doing so, he will encourage other people in his barrio to begin their own businesses and to aim to provide even better service and better products.

“Yo necesito la competencia, hay un sentimiento egoísta de la gente que monta un negocio. La competencia es necesaria para hacerte mejor a ti y a tu competencia, y que el cliente elija el mejor.” (“Antonio knows he needs the competition, to make his product and service better everyday, he wants to be challenged by new entrepreneurs to improve.”)   

Moises and Antonio’s team is one of the most important things for them. It’s a family affair so all wives, aunts and grandma’s are involved, bringing their experience in traditional sweets. They’ve also hired young boys from the barrio, to keep them off the streets. Antonio says that he wants all his employees to feel as part of his bakery, so he doesn’t pay them minimum wage like most people pay which is as of today 4 USD per month full time, but pays them according to their performance as a team. He pays people based on the amount of bread and meals produced, so that they are motivated to promote the bakery and bring in more clients. “Solo llegas mas rapido pero con equipo llegas más lejos.” Antonio and Moises know that alone they might get there faster but that with a team they can get even further, now they dream of building on the move bakeries, to provide meals to local schools.

Antonio and Moises also began a delivery service, that got to the farthest places in Petare. Delivery services were a foreign term for people in Petare, and even though they existed in the planned city before the crisis, Petare was never a place where meals were going to be delivered. Antonio realized that if he could prepare meals and get them to any point in Petare he could secure even more clients. They make meals on demand, and are paid for each meal upfront so that their business doesn’t lose money due to inflation of product prices also allowing  their clients affordable prices. 

There is a strong camaraderie in this whole process, everyone wants to make sure that Antonio and Moises are able to continue to do what they love and benefits them all. 

“Let’s bring prosperity to the darkest of places (...) I constantly ask them for their opinion to improve, because I’ve sold them the idea that this business is  as much mine as theirs, (...) because if they feel this belongs to them, they will protect it and take care of it.”

Antonio speaks of neighbors who would let him know when hard-to-find products in the midst of food shortages could be found and even offered to buy them for him. He recalls an incident when one of the delivery boys  got mugged while making a delivery, neighbors went out of their way to make sure the food was returned and that Antonio’s delivery guys were not at risk anymore. These types of incidents convinced Antonio that he is doing the right thing, that little by little his community will develop a sense of belonging with his bakery.

Not long ago, Antonio came up with an idea, he wanted to give people the opportunity to feel as if they were in a fancy restaurant from any other part of town. He found a spot in “El Encantado”, got a group of friends from cooking school to serve as waiters, he got nice silverware and table linen, he wore his chef uniform and designed a full meal. They charged people an entry fee and gave people a beautiful evening of food and music. “People cried, because there were a lot of people there that never had the opportunity, due to the cost of it, to be able to enjoy a meal in a good restaurant where they were served how they deserve to be served.”

Antonio hopes that this will be the beginning of the dream to finally open up a restaurant right there in Petare. He now does a monthly evening full of food and music, and the tickets are easily sold out. 

I admire Antonio’s certainty that all of this is possible in Venezuela. I asked him how he could have such faith in a country under-going such a difficult situation. To him it seems obvious, he is the son of immigrants, his mother’s family was Colombian and his father’s Dominicans who came to Venezuela in the late 1950’s.

He recalls how they lived in Venezuela for the remaining of their life but never stopped thinking of their own land, “Their hearts always stayed in their land, (...) I want my memories and my dreams to be here, that’s why this business has to go on.”

Antonio and Moises’ vision is to have one of the best bakeries in one of the most far off places, a barrio where people wouldn’t normally enter and if he were to open a new DAIM Bakery he would open it in another barrio. 

My work is going to generate a new form of commerce, it’s gonna start a snowball effect, that will elevate not only our community but our people. We will all rise together, new entrepreneurs will bring new ideas and we are all going to compete, and we are going to make each other better and hopefully in 20-30 years when my son takes over my bakery, people from outside Petare will come to drink coffee at my bakery. I once had the opportunity to go to Rio de Janeiro and I saw people go up that cerro, El Morro, and there are traditional shops there. Hopefully in a couple of years people will say yes, Petare has their difficulty but the best bread is up there.