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Gisselle Poveda has been running Cafe Tinto since 2016, when she took over her family business. Screenshot: Harrison Brink/AL DÍA News.
Gisselle Poveda has been running Cafe Tinto since 2016, when she took over her family business. Screenshot: Harrison Brink/AL DÍA News.

AL DÍA Top Restaurateurs 2021: Gisselle Poveda

Poveda was one of six Philadelphia restaurateurs honored at the recent AL DÍA Top Restaurateurs presentation.

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What has been the most important challenge and achievement during the pandemic?

I think that the most important challenge was to, first of all, wrap our heads around what was going on worldwide. I think that none of us ever endured a pandemic before, and so, one of the first challenges we endured was trying to keep our employees safe as well as our customers. We are naturally a take-out restaurant, so we didn’t have to deal with putting tables away or anything like that, but just trying to keep up with what the city thought was the best for us to do as business owners.

It was also trying to learn a little bit of the pandemic on our own. At the beginning, a lot of things were fluctuating, like you could let people come in, but no wait, you can’t. Again, us being a take-out establishment, we had to figure out a way in which we could still serve our customers without having them come in here. 

Another challenge was again, keeping our employees safe. What we decided to do was to stack up on supplements that we all believe in — supplements that basically take care of your immune system and strengthen it. I asked everyone: “Are you guys ok with taking supplements so that we can stay healthy?” Everyone said yes, so I gave everyone a month’s supply of supplements. Obviously, we also implemented the mask right away. 

I think our most important achievement was implementing delivery. Before the pandemic, we didn’t offer delivery. We’re family-owned, we’re family-run, and although a lot of customers kept asking, that was just a world I did not want to step into because it was unknown and second, I had tried it before with UberEats and stuff maybe like a year prior, and I just didn’t have a good experience with the whole third-party delivery thing. Aside from it being so expensive for us, I wasn’t in control of how the food was being delivered to my customer.

Looking back on your career, reflect on your journey

We established the bakery in 2008. It was my mother and I. It was hard times because a divorce happened, my family kind of split. If you ask me to reflect on my journey, it’s painful. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s also been so rewarding.

I can’t even complain. My parents started this when I was 16, so I’ve been part of the bakery since I was 16. Again, I mention my parents got divorced. That was hard, and it led my mother and I to have to open, to have to start again in this location. We’ve been here since 2008. If I reflect, if you even look at the place right now, it did not look the way it looks right now. When we found this place, there wasn’t a kitchen, and we had to build everything from the ground up.

I want to take this time and thank my family members because a lot of them came through. My cousin, he helped us build and construct, and all of that. It’s been a lot of teamwork, a lot of effort — a lot of effort that doesn’t just come from me. It’s been like a family. It takes two to tango, it takes a lot of people to keep a small business running. We’re all cousins here, we’re all related, so I love that.

But I also love the idea of being able to shape the people that work with me. For example, we have a thing here in Cafe Tinto where we tell everyone that comes aboard, ‘you don’t have to stay with us forever, but just know that if you’re here, you’re gonna sharpen up your work ethic.’ We want you to learn from us, and us learn from each other, so that when you do decide to leave, you leave a better person, a better employee, or even a better entrepreneur. We focus a lot on that, and that makes me happy.

I’d like to say we're doing a good thing. For the community, we’ve been a staple for over 10 years. We love our customers, and we’ve created a really strong sense of community in here, among our employees and customers.

What is your message to aspiring entrepreneurs?

My message to aspiring entrepreneurs is to follow your passion. I see this with my younger cousins, like ‘follow what you love,’ but then, ‘I don’t know what I love.’ Right? And it’s fine. Most of us don’t know what we want, but I would say that: You first have to figure out yourself. You first have to figure out what you are able to do. Like I tell my cousin: If you do something, it just takes time for you to get in touch with yourself. If you’re, for example, riding a bicycle and you feel that you really like it. Like, you love mountain biking, and you feel like it moves something inside of you, pay attention to that, because not everything moves us.

As you live, try out many things, and when you try something that you know moves you differently than many other things, zone in on that, and then make a business out of it. Don’t ever follow the money, don’t ever think: ‘I’m gonna do this because it’s gonna make me a lot of money’ because in reality, you can make money with your passion.

If you don’t enjoy what you do, you’re not gonna be great at it, and if you’re not great at it, I’m sorry, the world of entrepreneurship is gonna be very tough.

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