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“There Are No Excuses”

 

For Latina Mother and Daughter, Business Sense is a Family Imperative

By Joanne O’Sullivan

Photography by Tim Robison

The exterior of Lety Onate Multicultural Salon on New Leicester Highway is unassuming a small, stand-alone building on a busy stretch of road. When you walk in, you won’t find a lot of fancy fixtures and pricey products for sale. Aside from the framed certificates on the wall, there’s not a lot to indicate that the owner of the self-named salon travels monthly to style at big national hair shows and pageants and trains stylists from around the country.

But the salon is full of clients from all walks of life, with all kinds of hair getting an affordable cut, color, straightening or other service such as manicuring and waxing. You may see Onate’s brother Luis, a former professional soccer player; her daughter Alexandra; or even her little grandson Miguel, sweeping the floor with a pint-sized broom. Keeping overhead low and family close by are two of the strategies that have helped Onate build her business, and she’s eager to share what she’s learned with other women, especially Latinas who’ve come to the U.S. to pursue their dreams of financial security.

Onate grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, the second oldest of 11 children. She was working by the time she was eight, had her cosmetology license at 14, and her own salon by 16. If all this sounds exhausting, for Onate it was the opposite: Styling is her passion, and each new accomplishment energized her to set the bar higher. “It isn’t about money for me,” she says. “Happiness comes from reaching your goals.”

After becoming a cosmetology educator, she began working hair shows in the U.S. with the same company that styles the Miss Universe pageant. Saving all the dollars she made during the shows and raising her three daughters Maria, Alexandra, and Lulu on the pesos she earned at her salon, she saved enough to start her business without a loan after moving to Asheville in 2000.

“Don’t play with the bank’s money,” has always been her philosophy. “Don’t spend what you don’t have. Instead of buying a new car, start a new business.” She passed this philosophy on to her daughter, Maria Soto, who helped her mother in the salon as a child and finished high school at Erwin in Leicester after moving to Asheville. While still in school, she opted out of a new car and shared the family’s old truck in order to save up for a computer and launch a graphic-design business.

Realizing how long developing a graphic-design career can take, however, she decided to pursue another venture as an investment.

When she was just 21, Maria and her husband Luis had the opportunity to buy a store from a family friend who was getting out of business. “Everyone in his family is a baker and they all have their own businesses, so we have that background and we had support in doing it,” explains Maria.

After meeting success with the first one, the couple now owns two Los Nenes stores (the name means “the Babies,” referring to their position in the family). Located in West Asheville and Swannanoa, the two stores offer baked goods, kitchen supplies, and popular Mexican food items that are hard to find locally. Much of their inventory comes not from Mexico directly, but from other cities in the U.S. with large Mexican-immigrant populations. But the stores cater to more than just Latinos, and they also supply several restaurants in town with produce.

Although they had saved some money, securing additional financial backing for the stores at such a young age was challenging. “No one wanted to take a chance on us,” she says. But after graduating from Mountain BizWorks’ business-planning course, the couple received a small loan for the start-up, which they repaid within a year.

They have plans to expand the West Asheville store, but although she’s worked there “almost 24/7” for the past few years, Soto sees the business as an investment, a means to an end. Along with her duties at the store, she’s also pursuing a degree so she can follow her dream of opening her own photography studio.

Soto credits her mother with helping her to develop her impressive work ethic and pursuit of ongoing learning. “She was a great teacher. She made it clear that it was important to be your own boss and to continually improve yourself,” she says. “She had a great impact on me.”

For Onate, putting family first and setting a good example for her daughters has always been the end goal. Having learned to strike that balance, her next big project is to write a book so she can share what she’s learned with other women entrepreneurs, especially Latinas.

“No one comes to the U.S. to fail,” she says. “But somewhere along the way, women lose focus and look back to see that they’ve come so far away from their goals.” Many women, says Onate, see children as an obstacle to pursuing their goals rather than a part of their plan. “No excuses,” she says. “Having kids isn’t an excuse. You need to have a plan and you need people to help you.”

For her, help has come through her husband Christian Franklin, an instructor at AB Tech; her brothers, owners of Guadalajara Restaurant (now searching for a new location as Kmart Plaza on Tunnel Road undergoes renovations); and the extended family that helps out in the salon.

She’s also continuing her studies so she can write a book to inspire other women to meet their goals. Yes, she has a plan for it: It will be out in seven years, in time for her 50th birthday.

 

Lety Onate Salon is located at 264 New Leicester Hwy., 254-4966. Los Nenes bakeries are located at 1341 Parkwood in West Asheville (253-2086) and Swannanoa 2077 Highway 70 #D (575-2175).

 

Posted on Monday, September 2, 2013 at 05:25PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments2 Comments | References12 References

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Reader Comments (2)

Awesome people!!! Love this place! The best hair work in Asheville.
September 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDOP
Great article and very inspirational. Correction: Erwin High School is not in Leicester, it's in Asheville, N.C. 28806. Just because you turn off Leicester Highway to get to it doesn't mean it's in Leicester.
September 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Hipps

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