Watch: "Paleterias Tropicanas" | 5:09
For his family, and with pride in his culture, Jose Luis Valdez took a risk and brought a little piece of Mexico to Kansas City in 2004. Now, with multiple locations and its own production facility, Paleterias Tropicana ensures it's popsicle weather in KC all year long.
An entrepreneurial start
Walking down the streets, through the markets, and in the bus station, displaying handfuls of popsicles, a 7-year-old Valdez had his first taste of being an entrepreneur. As a child in Mexico, selling "paletas" kept money in his pockets and fed the belief that one day, he could own his own business.
When Valdez emigrated to the United States to pursue his dreams, he joined his brothers in Chicago.
"When you have dreams in your mind, you have to work very hard," Valdez said. "In my case, I starting in the restaurant industry, and at the beginning, it was so hard, because you start at the bottom – dishwasher, waiter, from waiter, captain, and step by step, you go every day. Every single day you work very hard to prove your energy, your knowledge, and the competition, as well."
Valdez worked his way up to positions at the top restaurants in Chicago. "If you continue to do that, you can have a beautiful life, you can make enough money," Valdez said, "but when you know your energy, your knowledge, your experience, you say 'You know what? Let's do this. It's now to do something for myself.'"
He and his wife, Lucia, decided to move their family to Kansas City to start their business – the weather, the community, and the opportunity for growth were all factors in their choice. They started with $14,000, which wasn't enough. No bank would loan to them, so family and friends helped Valdez and his wife in the struggle to build the business.
Now, Valdez is a serial entrepreneur. There are five Paleterias Tropicana locations and Valdez owns his own production facility. Tropicana was a finalist for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award, the "Mr. K Award," in 2015, as well as being recognized as business of the year by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
"To come every day in our stores, every single day, seven days a week, start 7 in the morning, and back home at like 8 to 10 p.m., every single day, we always say, 'What can we make better tomorrow, which we didn't finish today?' Our passion to be here, it's tremendous," Valdez said.
Jose Luis Valdez:
Everybody has a child inside.
I would say like 90 percent I'm child, 10 perfect I'm adult.
My name is Jose Luis. I am the owner of Paleterias Tropicana,
I'm born in Mexico. When I used to be seven years old, I'm start to sell popsicles in the street, in the markets, in the bus station.
I put in like five, six, seven popsicles in each hand, and I was like, "Popsicle, paletas! Popsicle, paletas!" I always had money in my pockets. I always have something to give to my family, to my friends if I work selling the popsicles.
And that's how we started think about like, "Maybe one day I can create my own business."
We started the first store on Southwest Boulevard in 2004.
At the beginning that was really hard because first of all, you have to learn the language, you have to understand, you know, the culture of the American people.
I remember those days sometimes, we slept in the store, because no business, nothing to do, so we slept sometimes, and then when we hear the bell in our store, we wake up you know all together.
There was some moments that, you feeling "What am I doing?" I mean, perhaps I choose a bad concept.
You can cry if you want, but after that, then you continue what you started.
I always view Jose Luis as being perfectly wired to be an entrepreneur. He has a tremendous work ethic. He's not afraid of taking risks. He enjoys challenges. He enjoys making decisions.
Jose Luis Valdez:
When you see the happy face. The customers tell their friends, tell the family. Sooner or later, they're gonna come back with somebody else.
When I come to Paleterias Tropicana, I know it's a family-owned business, built from the ground up. I feel that I can't really distinguish between the family and the business and that's very atypical of what you find in businesses, even family-owned businesses.
Jose Luis Valdez:
When we build this business, we thinking about the culture. To bring a little piece from Mexico to USA, let's create something like ice cream, popsicle, smoothies, churros, hot food, angus frescas, fruit cocktail.
We make homemade ice cream, estilo michoacan.
We start from the traditional, like strawberry, banana, chocolate, banana split, but we always brought flavor from our country, including mamey, waba, yellow cherry and mango con chile, if you like a little spicy with lime, a little touch of fruit. All these different flavors.
I remember those days when we'd sit down face to face with the president of the bank, and I explain my situation, and we ask a big favor, "we understand your rules of the bank, but listen, this is a great opportunity, you know us, you know how we work so hard, just give just a little chance, you know, to have a little more money to continue our business," and he told me "you know what, I like you, I like your family, your business is so great, but unfortunately, we can't do that."
So after three years, we have a winner of the Hispanic community business of the year. So, we have a beautiful ceremony for us, and I remember at that table the gentleman I was talking about, he's sitting next to us. So he said, "You know what, Jose Luis, I'm so happy you growing so fast, I understand you have franchise already, and here's my business card, just in case you looking for some money," and I remember I saw his card and I put it back to the table and say "you know what, thank you very much, but I don't need you."
Entrepreneurs have a special place in my heart. I think entrepreneurs have an obligation in some sense to take on a bigger role in helping the greater community. He's doing tremendous work here, him and his wife, Lucia, but I think he has an opportunity to really make a difference in the lives of the entire city of Kansas City.
Jose Luis Valdez:
I believe in American Dream,
The American Dream is opportunities.
Opportunity to do something in your life, but also, you have to do something for them.
Every single day, we always say "What can we make better tomorrow?"
Our passion to be here, it's tremendous.
When you have dreams in your mind, you have to work very hard. You have to put your own energy, you have to put your own knowledge, because otherwise, you're not gonna make it.