Name: Florvil "Chef Flo" Valdez
Business/Location: Eemas Cuisine/Orange, New Jersey
Specialty: Hawaiian & Filipino-inspired eats
What problem does your business solve?: We feed hungry customers at pop-up vending locations and market-style events, providing Hawaiian and Filipino-inspired eats.
What makes your business unique?: Eemas Cuisine provides food and an experience that is under-represented in our area.
What’s your story?: After working in the culinary industry for 11 years – restaurants, commercial and kosher catering, corporate grocery retail, and personal chef service – I felt I wanted a change. While hosting a Luau-themed wedding, my client suggested I sell my Hawaiian rice balls at “one of those food festivals like the one in Brooklyn.” For the past three years, I’ve been working for myself with a small team mainly offering catering and chef services. I learned how to provide a unique service that clients were looking for – a personalized and custom chef service centered around the clients’ lifestyle and preferences. Then I had the opportunity to start selling food that I enjoyed through my travels, but I could not find anywhere around here. I was scared, but I knew my food was delicious or “eemas.” Here I am, in my fifth year of vending at farmers’ markets and food festivals with the promise of growth.
One piece of advice you have for other food entrepreneurs: Do your research! Don't rush into making your business plan or new food idea work. Test it, try it, sample it, ask for constructive criticism, make necessary changes, and then test it again. Making sure everything from recipe testing all the way through proper branding and marketing is on point is necessary to your success. Don't half ass it.
What do you wish you had known before you started your business?: I wish I had known a little bit more about the physical work that it took to maintain the pop-up food vending lifestyle. I understand the hard work and long hours of standing up and cooking in extreme weather. However, I did not realize how much physical work it took to set up the tents, properly rig the tents to have enough electricity, enough lighting, and enough branding to make you pop out from the rest. There isn't a class for this - you can't even Google it!
What’s your greatest challenge in your business and how are you overcoming it?: The greatest challenge that my business faces today is staying viable and relevant during the markets' off season in the winter months. We have been trying to keep afloat by offering catering deals and discounts. Unfortunately, it's never enough to keep us in the positive considering commercial kitchen rental and lack of hours for team members.
What are you most proud of about your business?: I am most proud of the consistent growth and sales we have accomplished through our unique branding and style.
What do you love most about being a food entrepreneur?: I love being able to share food that not most people are aware of or have experienced before. As a food entrepreneur, we have a responsibility to not only provide food and service to our customers but to also give them the best version of what we are selling.
What are your plans for the future?: We are currently entering our fifth year of vending and catering and looking forward to growing even more. We are on the lookout to expand our services by hopefully finding a restaurant to call home or a food hall to continue to share our “eemas” cuisine with all of you on a daily basis.