We had the good fortune of connecting with Maria Fernanda & Maria Corina Cabezas and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Maria Fernanda & Maria Corina, what do you want people to remember about you?
Having to reinvent ourselves after emigrating to a new country in our late 20’s, we found ourselves losing some of our most beloved traditions due to our busy lifestyles. One of these traditions was eating arepas every day like we were used to when we were growing up in Venezuela. We looked everywhere for a convenient and healthy alternative, but we could not find it anywhere. We took matters into our own hands, and just a few months ago, we came up with the first ready to eat arepa in the market that can be heated on a toaster and is made using top quality ingredients. We founded TOAST-IT with a clear mission to export our culture and make arepas accessible not only to Venezuelans and Colombians, but to people from other nationalities who have become arepa fans. We want to keep this millenary tradition alive, which has been inevitably lost to some extent in the younger generation of Venezuelans who have switched to more convenient alternatives (a traditional arepa can take up to 30 min to cook). We want people to remember us for being proud of our heritage as women looking to share our culture with everyone who will listen. We also want to be an example for young women from all nationalities to follow their passions, because we believe passion and hard work are the key ingredients to achieve success.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I(Maria Fernanda) have had a career in corporate finance for the past 9+ years. I have worked for Fortune 500 companies like Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Citi Bank and Pepsico but I always knew I wanted to work on my own project one day. Almost six years ago, Venezuela entered a big economic & political crisis and I decided to move to the US. It was a hard transition at first, having to start from zero, learn how to communicate professionally in a different language, and having no connections at all. I overcame these challenges by working very hard and pushing myself to be the best at whatever I set myself out to do. I worked extra hours and worked on my English by taking public speaking classes. Eventually I was recognized for my work, gaining enough confidence to start my own business. I found my calling which was to share a piece of my culture with everyone that willing to listen. My sister came up with our business idea and I thought it could serve a higher purpose of not only spreading the love of arepas to new places in the world but also sharing a piece of our culture and keeping our traditions alive. [Maria Corina] I was the first person in my family to move to the United States from Venezuela when I was 17. It was hard to adapt at first, being alone in a new city with no friends or connections whatsoever and having to study in a second language. I was lucky enough start my career studying Economics at University of Miami where I had to work extra hard to keep up with my classmates. After the first year, I started excelling at school and fell in love with everything business and this country. I did multiple internships while I was studying, but unfortunately, didn’t feel quite as passionate about what I was doing at the time. I always knew I wanted to start my own business, but realized I had to gain more experience before doing so. I decided to go back to school to pursue a master’s degree in Data Science at UC Berkeley in California. I can honestly say this has been one of the most challenging goals I have set for myself. Not only this was a competitive program where most of my classmates had years of experience solving complex computer problems for large corporations; but I had no programming background and was the youngest person in the whole program. I didn’t let this intimidate me and decided to work extra hard to achieve my goal. I ended up graduating with honors and gained enough confidence to start my own business. I also learned that I can achieve whatever I set my mind to.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
– Go for a stroll at Coco walk and grab dinner at either Sapore di Mare or Le Bouchon du Grove, the best French restaurant in Miami in our opinion (the chicken fricassee is to die for). – Get a book for your trip back in Books & Books at Coral Gables and get a Cheeseburger & Tres Leches two blocks away at Hillstone, one of Miami’s must-visit restaurants. – If you are looking to get a drink, we like Lost Boy in Downtown Miami which has a pretty laid down ambiance and is great for happy hours. If you are looking for a place with a Miami vibe, Mandolin Aegean Bistro in the Design District has an amazing white wine Sangria and the ambiance is lovely. – If you want to go to the beach, Soho House, The Standard Spa or The Edition hotels are great alternatives. – Go for a run or a bike trip to Key Biscayne (Crandon Park) and grab a croissant at La Boulangerie or an Alfajor and cafecito at Piononos.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Our parents and our husbands, who have always believed in us and supported us through every decision and obstacle.