Names: Luis Calderin (left) and Oscar Arencibia (right)
Pronouns: Luis – He/Him, Oscar – He/Him
Current Town: Luis – Winooski, Oscar – South Burlington
Years in VT: Luis – 35, Oscar – 6
Industry: Luis – Food & Beverage / Marketing & Creative, Oscar – Restaurant
Business name: Santiago’s
Business website: www.santiagosvt.com
Business address: 1127 North Ave, Suite 20, Burlington, Vermont 05408
What do you enjoy about being business owners in VT?
Oscar: I have always admired Vermont’s focus on small businesses. It is exciting to be a part of it now and to collaborate with other businesses. I have found that there is great camaraderie and an urge to help one another out. We have been helped greatly and we look forward to the opportunity to pay these debts forward ourselves.
Luis: Over the years I’ve enjoyed being able to work on national and internationally recognized brands, but get to do it from one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Around this new venture, Santiago’s, it has brought me much joy to be able to share our food and culture with a very warm and receptive community.
What are some challenges that you’ve faced as business owners since living in VT and how have you worked to overcome those challenges?
Oscar: It has been only recently that I have become a small business owner. The biggest challenge up to now has been finding funding and most recently finding staff. The pandemic has been an obvious hindrance but as we look ahead our hope is that these challenges begin to ease.
Luis: Presently it’s around staffing. We have great paying positions and want to prioritize People of Color. We want our people to be part of this experience. Over the years I have found that I was operating in a silo. Head down, in my lane, doing me. It’s because of VTPoC that I have been able to connect with other folx in our community. It’s actually how Oscar and I met this past Summer. There has been a big void in bringing people together to share ideas, opportunities and resources.
What opportunities do you see for your industry in the future?
Oscar: Considering how hard the restaurant industry was hit, I hope to see a significant rebound. There is a hunger for culturally relevant cuisine and we want to take full advantage of that.
Luis: For us at Santiago’s, I see the opportunity to bring our whole and most authentic selves to a community, that for many years, I felt we needed to shrink who we are to fit in. I don’t feel that way any more. Santiago’s celebrates our Hispanic heritage and we are here to do it right and make our ancestors and families proud. These are our families’ traditions and recipes and we are sharing with an audience that appreciates real flavor and authenticity. This is more importantly an opportunity to collaborate with great friends and find that we all have more in common that we do apart, and to discover that over food made with love and a zest for life.
In what ways could your community or the state of VT support BIPOC businesses?
Oscar: Grants. My personal story is one that I am sure has been duplicated throughout the state and the nation itself. I lost my job due to the pandemic. I found myself without a career and without a sense of self. I chose to follow a dream and start my own business. Then, I came to find out that the help usually available through SBA loans and grants to BIPOC individuals, like myself, were all dried up. The pandemic had sucked all the oxygen out of the room and there was no space for folks like myself. Who, through no fault of our own, found ourselves at a crossroads. [I was] chasing the American dream with no support. Luckily, for myself, I found solace in a community that was more than happy to lend a helping hand and support me through this process.
Luis: Financial investment and resource distribution would help jump start the small business owner economy. Most jobs in this state are thanks to small business owners, so supporting and encouraging more [businesses to start and succeed] would benefit a state that is struggling to keep a diverse and young resident base.
Why are you a member of Vermont Professionals of Color Network?
Oscar: Because I am a professional of color. I want to support, collaborate and network with other BIPOC professionals.
Luis: I am a member because I want to help other BIPOC business owners see that they can thrive here in VT. I want young people to be able to see themselves as owners if that’s the path they want to explore. I want to be able to hire, collaborate with, and build meaningful community with other people of color across the state. At the very minimum, we want to feed you the food your Abuelitas raised you on. Come see us soon.