I met Annette through my mutual friend, Silvia who you may have heard of since we started a podcast together! She quickly became one of my closest friends and it has been a pleasure watching her grow from copywriter to a badass business woman who truly believes in herself and her capabilities as an entrepreneur. I have to say, hearing her employees call her "jefa" was very inspiring and I felt extremely proud of her.
She started La Vieja Pizza and Beer a little over a year ago with Elliot Rodríguez, her boyfriend, now baby daddy (they are expecting a baby girl! 👧) and survived two back to back natural disasters called Irma and María. It hasn't been easy, but according to Annette it has been the most amazing experience of her life. Want to learn more about this super inspiring story? Keep reading!
María Elena: What do you wanted to be when you were a little girl?
Annette Borrero: Soap Opera Actress! Just because that's what I used to watch everyday with my mom and grandmother.
ME: What was your first job before college?
AB: After a jewelry class, in which I learned a technique using Swarovski crystals, I decided to start a jewelry line. I started selling my creations at school and soon enough, some jewelry making shops started asking me to give classes in Mayagüez, Ponce, Yauco and even Old San Juan. Then that summer I decided to start a jewelry making camp. My mom was my accountant and she even got me business cards. I was only 13 years old, I felt like a millionaire!
ME: What did you study, where and why?
AB: I studied communication with a minor in languages in Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (USC) in Santurce. Why Santurce? At that moment my parents where in the process of getting a divorce and I wanted to leave home (Yauco) and be independent.
Since I really didn't know what I wanted to study and I really wanted to be an actress, I figured communication was the closest I could get to it. What I did know was that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in an office, so studying communication and how the media works was a way to have several options lined up for me.
ME: What was your first job out of college?
AB: At an advertising agency.
ME: What did you learn from your experience working at an advertising agency?
AB: It developed my patience. I don't like to use the term "working under pressure" because it seems mediocre. There is no need to work under pressure, you just need to do the work. Everyone works at their own pace to accomplish their goals. When you put too much pressure on yourself you are going to fail at something.
I also learned that not anyone can be a boss and your worth is not measured by how much power you have in an organization. It helped me understand that each person, each department and each position is important. Without your employees you wouldn't be a boss.
ME: When did you know that the advertising industry wasn't for you?
AB: Don't get me wrong, I love advertising and I specially love to work on my business's branding and sending out the message to my target. But I knew that I had to start making some moves about a year in at the agency, when I figured that the bureaucracy behind the advertising industry wasn't for me.
ME: But you stayed there for almost 4 years! How did you cope with this frustration?
AB: Money wise, I was completely cut of from my parents since I was 22 years old, so obviously I needed to stay there because it gave me some sort of security for a while. But I knew this wasn't going to be forever. Sure, I had some breakdowns, but I handled them with the therapist you recommended me who helped me a lot to overcome this situation. I knew that I had to accomplish some goals and hang in there for a while without being desperate to leave just because I couldn't handle the bureaucracy.
I was really clear that I didn't aspire to have the life that I saw 80% of the people around me had. I knew that my time at that agency had an expiration date.
Looking back now, I know I quit at the perfect moment. I was so much more mature, grown and I had a better intuition towards people's real intention, which you really need when you manage your own business. Now I work three times as much than I did working at the agency but I am so much happier.
ME: How did your family members and close one reacted to your decision to quit your career to open a pizza place?
AB: I started to prepare them mentally, specially my dad! My dad is very traditional and it turns out that the same day I quit the agency, he retired from a company he had worked for more than half of his life. He couldn't understand how I could quit a career that required a degree for what he considered "a hobby" and thought that I would waste my time doing this. But I understand where he was coming from. He really didn't want to see me struggle.
Soon, he started seeing that this was not a whim, it was a real business that we were creating from the ground up and now he loves to brag about me!
Nevertheless, my mom is one of those people that won't say anything, but she's always there. She can defer from my opinion, but she always responds with a "I know what my daughters give and if you take a decision is because you can handle it, so go for it and I'll be here for support".
ME: What was the biggest challenge before opening La Vieja Pizza and Beer?
AB: Personally, quitting the agency! I felt ready, I believed in myself, I believed in our concept but it was a personal struggle to set a clear date in which I was going to quit and dedicate my time to my own business. When I finally quit, we were half way through the planning process, but it came to a point where splitting my time between the agency and the business was not enough.
In terms of the restaurant, the biggest challenge was administrative. Getting all the permissions, creating a corporation, financial statements, projections and all that planning process before opening for business was hectic.
ME: How were those first few months after opening the restaurant?
AB: It was interesting. Even though I love cooking at home, I had no experience in a restaurant kitchen and I certainly had no experience cooking in bigger volumes. Also, customer service was a first for me from a business owner perspective. People often look at me and underestimate me because I look young.
ME: Let's talk about Hurricanes Irma and María. How was that experience with your business?
AB: It was a religious experience for us. Before we opened the restaurant, we created financial projections for the first and second years of the business, but we never contemplated having two devastating hurricanes. Needless to say, we didn't project our losses after this in terms of money, employment, inventory and even infrastructure. We didn't even have a power plant because while creating our business plan we decided it was an unnecessary investment because we projected that at most, we would be without power for three days. Ha!
For Irma, we lost more than $2,000 in inventory because we didn't prepare. As many other Puertorricans, we underestimated the hurricane. Then came María and we couldn't open the business for three weeks. Three weeks without money flow, but once we opened after those three weeks of not operating, we doubled our sales because people needed to come to the restaurant to eat, since they didn't have power or water service at their homes! That way we were able to recompense all the loses in September 2017.
ME: What is the most difficult part of owning and managing a business with your life partner?
AB: I would have thought it would be making decisions, but it hasn't been like that. We quickly learned to differ and see each other's weaknesses and strengths in order to make important decisions. The most difficult part has been not having a set routine. Our life is La Vieja so we can't have romantic getaways as much as we used to.
But the best part is that we complement each other and we never compete, which has made us closer and stronger. We have learned a lot about each other that we wouldn't have learned if we weren't business partners as well. We are a team!
ME: Talking about getting closer... You recently got pregnant! How has been this experience now that you have a relatively new business.
AB: It was absolutely not planned. I discovered that the 1% error margin in anti-contraceptives is real, I'm living it. It was a shock! We had plans and goals for 2018 that didn't include a baby. We had talked about having kids as a long-term goal but this has pushed us to reconsider several future business plans.
ME: What is next for La Vieja Pizza and Beer?
AB: Our brunch once a month on Sundays! Happy hours on Wednesdays and Saturdays and we recently started incorporating wine to our menu. Also, since we had to cancel our OktoberFest last year due to the hurricanes, we want to make it happen this year.
ME: What advice would you give someone who wants to open their own business one day?
AB: Define your concept and believe in it 100%. If you are not in love with your concept, change it until you are sure of what you're doing. And of course, have discipline!
ME: What would you tell yourself at 18 years old?
AB: Take more advantage of college while still having fun and traveling like you did.