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Entrepreneurs / Food and drink / Thriving

Meet Gisselle Poveda, a cafe proprietor with dreams of building ownership

Nearly two decades after learning a crucial lesson about commercial renting, the North Philly-based entrepreneur seeks the right base to grow and reinvest. Listen to her story in this installment of's Thriving audio series.

Gisselle Poveda. ( Nichole)

This report is part of Thriving, a yearlong storytelling initiative from focused on the lived experiences of Philadelphia and comparative city residents. The goal is to generate insights about the economic opportunities and obstacles along their journeys to financial security. Here's who we're focusing on and why.

When Gisselle Poveda took ownership of her parents’ North Philadelphia bakery in 2015, one of the first things she did was rename it Cafe Tinto.

The original name was “very hard to pronounce, very Colombian,” she said.

Poveda, who was 15 when her family moved to Philadelphia in 2002, loves sharing food and coffee from her native land.

“I want people to know Colombia for its coffee,” she said. “I want people to know Colombia for its food, and I want people to know Colombia for our kindness.”

But she wants more for her business. For one thing, she wants to operate the bakery from a property that she owns — not rents.

Poveda was one of about 6,000 immigrant entrepreneurs in Philadelphia in 2016, according to the most recent data available. The city’s number of immigrant entrepreneurs had doubled from just a few years prior, and that rate of growth outpaces immigrant entrepreneur havens like Atlanta, Denver and Miami.

The entrepreneurs’ experiences vary greatly. Nearly a third earn more than $100,000 a year, and they operate medical device, software and retail businesses. Others piece together a life on struggling commercial corridors.

Poveda rents a small space on Wyoming Avenue — a mostly residential area.

“The most important thing, and this is what I’ve learned in my journey as an entrepreneur or as a storefront owner, you want to own the location that your store is in,” she said.

Poveda first learned this lesson in 2006, when her parents owned the bakery. It had become an overnight success back then, and Poveda said, the landlord noticed.

“I feel like that created motivation maybe for the owner of the building to just be like, ‘Hey, like I’m going to double your rent.’ We were like, ‘What?’”

There are no rent control laws in Philadelphia that limit how much landlords can raise rent. That means, theoretically, a landlord could give you a notice tomorrow about tripling your rent if they wanted to. But back then, Poveda and her family didn’t have time to figure out whether the landlord’s actions were right or wrong. They had only been in the US for four years.

“I think it really quite takes like a good seven to 10 years for you to, like, really understand the system that you’re in — the country, the laws, the rules,” Poveda said. “You know what I mean, for you to feel confident enough to go about, ‘Hey, how do I go about this?’ So back then, we didn’t have that. We weren’t confident enough to be like, ‘Hey, no, you can’t do that. We’ll take you to court.’ Like, we weren’t in a position to do that. So what happened was we ended up having to leave.”

Transparent display case with brown pastries at Cafe Tinto

(Photo by Dominique Nichole)

While Poveda works toward owning a building to house her bakery, she also dreams of opening a second location.

“I hear this from a lot of our beautiful customers, like, ‘Hey, you should open a store here, you should open a store there, you should open a store here in Center City,’ everywhere. I would love to have as many people get to drink our coffee and get to feel our kindness through our service. I want that, but it takes time. You know, good things take time.”

It also takes money. And Poveda doesn’t want to take on debt.

“I am not interested in, like, going out there and getting a loan from a bank and then, like, employ people to be there because I certainly cannot be at every location, right? I can’t split myself into two or even three,” she said. “I don’t want to do that just because it will ‘represent growth.’”

Poveda said she often has moments where she fantasizes about living life like a normal 30-year-old.

Sometimes, she’ll ask herself, “Why do I do all of this? But then I go back to my why. I know you’re doing this for a purpose because you want to live small, because you want to be able to grow. Because you want to be able to reinvest. Because you want to be able to, you know, hold off on your wants. So at one point,  you’ll be able to do all that. You’ll be able to get all that you want.”

These Thriving audio stories feature reporting by Nichole Currie and audio production by Rowhome Productions. 

Series: Thriving

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