|Heidy C. Paz Manager & Owner LA Granja LLC
The first of three children, Heidy was born in Teculután, Guatemala. Her mother was an elementary school teacher and her father, an agricultural engineer. Since childhood she was encouraged by her Dad to study and become a professional.
Always a good student, Heidy pursued her dreams of becoming learned even after she married at the young age of 18 years. Things were not easy. While pregnant with her first child and studying at the University her husband Rony had to leave the family behind and go to America to find employment.
Every 6 months until she finished her studies in Industrial Engineering and moved the U.S., Heidy and her young son would travel to the United States to visit her husband. In order to help with expenses she would bring products from Guatemala to sell to her friends. It was when she started bringing dry cheese and cream (difficult to make in this area due to the climate) that the idea for her business began.
In 2003, Paz finished her studies in Industrial Engineering and moved to America. She found jobs in real estate and jewelry manufacturing. Heidy continued to pursue her idea to import dairy products from her country and found that it was not permitted by law. After doing some research, she learned that she could make the cream herself. “The first time we did it, my husband and I were so excited. It was exactly the same flavor as our country. Nobody sells something like that,” said Heidy.
The idea grew to create a dairy company. Unsure where to start, Paz made a few phone calls to state organizations who directed her to the Center for Women & Enterprise. She made an appointment with Carmen Diaz Jusino with only “my dreams in my hands,” shared Heidy. With Carmen’s help she made calls and appointments with a variety of agencies. Imagine her excitement about working towards her dream, but the disappointments from realizing how complicated it would be to navigate the regulations and meet the requirements. With CWE’s encouragement and a scholarship, Heidy attended CWE’s course “CEP: Business Planning” (taught in Spanish) while at the same time completing the requirements for the Food Safety Managers Certification at R.I. Hospitality. The process then led Heidy to Ithaca NY where she participated in a Dairy Microbiology Workshop taught by Robert Ralyea at Cornell University. A senior extension associate in the Department of Food Science, Mr. Raylea provided Heidy with valuable information, and generously answered all her questions not only while she attended the program but after as well. In 2010 Heidy perfected her cheese recipes and investigated and learned relevant state regulations and laws for dairy.
Heidy’s tenacity and commitment to her goals kept her moving forward. From further classes, workshops and volunteer advisors, she received assistance from CWE all along the way with things like setting up her company’s legal entity and putting together an accounting system. With everything in place, Heidy launched La Granja Dairy Products in May 2011.
The first year was difficult. A mother of three children ages 13, 10 and 5 years, Heidy was stressed. Her husband and she found themselves starting to make the cheese at 3 in the morning and finishing at 6 or 7 in the evening. In the summer her children helped so that they could finish earlier and spend time with their parents who they rarely saw otherwise due to the work. It was hard and a sacrifice for all.
Product in the store is replaced at no cost to the store owner if unsold. During the first 6 months that the cheese was on the market Heidy found that because consumers were unfamiliar with the product they weren’t buying it, thereby causing them to throwing half away.
Having spent all their savings and not having enough to pay their expenses the family found themselves at wits end. Heidy’s parents were extremely concerned. Although worried her father continued to encourage her to keep going and offered to get the money to help with expenses.
Since launch Heidy has dealt with many ups and downs, most notably the loss of her initial production location due to the sale of the building. But again, with her perseverance along with CWE’s assistance she found another suitable facility to produce her cheeses. Today La Granja is offering Queso Fresco (fresh cheese), Requeson (similar to ricotta cheese), and Queso de capas (fresh cheese). Last year the company imported fresh loroco, a vine with edible flowers that grows in Central America and is a popular ingredient in many dishes and sold it in Massachusetts and New Jersey.
LaGranja cheeses are made from 100% milk, rennet and salt, with no additives or preservatives and distributed weekly to a growing number of Hispanic and local market stores, currently focused in Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts.
“I thank God for everything that happened. The business is getting good, the sales now are better, but I know it is a long way to success. But now I’m sure, He is with me. My business would not have been possible without the support of my family and the help of the Center for Women & Enterprise.
From the beginning and through all this process I have been supported by my husband, without him, this would be impossible. I thank my children, Luis, Gloria and Carolina that in our long absences they became responsible and mature, learned to cook and be independent, so as to be consistent and value what they have. As a family we have grown spiritually this last year. I strongly believe that, you can reach your dreams, even if you are an immigrant, if you work hard and follow the rules of this country.”