When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

06 February 2007

They're good arepas, too

Manuel A. Miranda was 8 when his family immigrated to New York from Bogotá. His parents, who had been lawyers, turned to selling home-cooked food from the trunk of their car. Manuel pitched in after school, grinding corn by hand for traditional Colombian flatbreads called arepas.

Today Mr. Miranda, 32, runs a family business with 16 employees, producing 10 million arepas a year in the Maspeth section of Queens. But the burst of Colombian immigration to the city has slowed; arepas customers are spreading through the suburbs, and competition for them is fierce. Now, he says, his eye is on a vast, untapped market: the rest of the country.

In the long run, like bagels, “you’re going to have arepas in every store,” predicted Mr. Miranda, whose innovations include a “toaster-friendly” version (square instead of round), and an experimental Web site that offers online sales nationwide. “But I don’t have the connections. I don’t know the people who can advise how to take us to the next level.”

Immigrant Entrepreneurs Shape A New Economy (New York Times, January 6, 2007)

A few random thoughts and observations.

(1) I've tasted these arepas, and for mass-produced arepas they are indeed quite amazingly good. (I grew up eating cornbread, and I have yet to find any variant of cornbread that I do not enjoy eating.)

(2) Lawyering skills, depending on the area of law you practice in, are not necessarily all that portable from state to state in the Union; to be trained and certified in another country's legal system, and then to emigrate as Mr. Miranda's parents did is truly a leap of faith, because you really are abandoning your luggage at the station.

(3) We seem to have a very different experience of immigration in New York City from the rest of the country. New York City's economy, from top to bottom, depends on the energy and drive of immigrants.

(4) Mr. Miranda will, no doubt, ultimately connect with the right people to help him take his business to the next level; I devoutly hope that the quality of the arepas does not suffer.

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