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Powerful Women: Let's Talk - 102: Paola R. Mendivil

Paola Mendivil
Paola Mendivil

Jennifer Moss welcomes Paola Mendivil to Powerful Women: Let’s Talk. Paola is a Bilingual Business Development Officer at Grow and VP of catering for El Granjero Mexican Grill

Paola R. Mendivil is a Bilingual Business Development Officer at Grow, providing technical assistance and working capital loans to small business owners. She’s also the Vice President of Catering for her family business, El Granjero Mexican Grill, established in 2007. Hear her story of leadership and about her passion for providing personal growth opportunities.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.


Narrator: Produced by women, about women. Powerful Women: Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world; transforming who we are and how we live.


Jennifer Moss: Hello, everyone time for Powerful Women: Let's Talk. Thanks so much for joining us today I'm Jennifer Moss. It is such a pleasure to bring you today's powerful woman, Paola Mendivil. She is the bilingual business development officer at Grow providing technical assistance and working capital loans to small business owners. She's also the vice president of catering for her family business El Granjero Mexican grill established in 2007. Born and raised in Mexico City, Paola moved to Grand Rapids in 2005. She attended Grand Rapids Community College and years later obtained her bachelor's degree in Business administration from Ferris State University. Paola was awarded the university's Pace Setter Award in 2021. She currently serves in the Inforum West Michigan Council and the Ferris Grand Rapids Council. Paola served in the city of Grand Rapids Planning Commission for 2 years as well. And she's a non-traditional first-Generation College grad passionate about providing personal growth opportunities and connections for her networking circles, including the Latina Network and the Latina Community Coalition. And of course, all of that has powerful woman written all over it. Welcome, Paola to Powerful Women: Let's Talk. We appreciate you being here.

Paola Mendivil: Muchas gracias, thank you for having me

Jennifer Moss: Indeed. So a bit more about Paola before we begin our conversation, she was named the top women owned business by the Grand Rapids Business Journal and one of the top 50 Latinas in Michigan by the Hispanic Latino Commission of Michigan. She was the first Latina to be on the cover of The West Michigan Woman magazine Winter 2019 edition. And most recently she was named Hispanic Business Person of the Year by the West, Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for 2022. She lives on the West side with her husband and her 2 children. And we want to welcome you again Paola. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Paola Mendivil: Excited to be here.

Jennifer Moss: Yes, so let's start. Let's talk about a little bit about the restaurant EL Granjero. You are the co-owner there, but you're also the bilingual business development officer at Grow. You've got a lot on your plate. You're very busy.

Paola Mendivil: Yes, I'm passionate about always doing something. I want to make sure that there is productivity. There is steps moving forward with my business. Or with the community that I know working at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce back in 2010 for 6 years. That gave me a lot of opportunity to get to know the challenges and barriers for the Latino business community here and including my mom. Right? So she didn't feel comfortable speaking in English all the time. So paperwork was overwhelming going to meetings, introducing herself. That was something intimidating. So having me Kind of the face of the business, because believe me, you don’t want me in the kitchen I’m not a good cook

Jennifer Moss: I bet you do well.

Paola Mendivil: I know the recipes and I know the process is just like I cannot executed the way they do. My husband who is our kitchen man. They're very passionate about it. They make it look so easy and it’s delicious. So that’s their job. Yeah, I've been the face of the business for so long. And like you said, co-owner, like on paper, I'm not even a co-owner. I've been an employee all this time.

Jennifer Moss: So just some of the things we look at that and you being the face and doing a lot of the conversation over time. First of all, congratulations, 15 years.

Paola Mendivil: Yes, thank you

Jennifer Moss: You just celebrated that, so that’s exciting. Does it seem like it's been that long?

Paola Mendivil: It doesn’t especially after the pandemic it’s like where they the time go. Are you serious? Like we remember the first anniversary and we look at our pictures and the people who are there, our customers that were small families now they bring their children there. They are so tall, maybe taller than me. I'm like, oh my gosh, look at you. So it's been a very, very exciting journey.

Jennifer Moss: And the business has grown quite a bit over these number of years. The 15 years.

Paola Mendivil: Yes, yes, we're very thankful for the community that Grand Rapids loves authentic Mexican food and there's so many options and we still have that loyalty and that following. And even through the pandemic, seen the love and support from a customer's just has no comparison to any a word recognition knowing that they’ll be there for you. It's so important to our family roots, our team, especially everybody. You know, willing to come back from this uncertainty and have their job back at the restaurant and things like I was just so amazing.

Jennifer Moss: I bet that it is. I bet everything is so exciting. Like I said you’ve got a lot going on. Very busy. Are you enjoying this journey as you go along? That's what was important. Kind of a stopgap to check in and do that. Are you enjoying the journey along the way here?

Paola Mendivil: It is yes.

The one thing that we miss at the restaurant is not having our family from Mexico going to come visit, able to you know, get the experience which is very unfortunate. But that's why our customers at the restaurant become our family because they've been coming for years. They have so many great memories. They help us improve our service, our food. So, you know, when you're passionate about the hospitality industry, the cooking is just so rewarding to see how far we've come.

Jennifer Moss: And as we speak of rewards, like, you know, there's been years in the making to get to this point of 15 years in the celebratory piece of that. But along the way, have you encountered barriers yourself, your business as you proceed along this journey, have there been barriers that you guys have encountered?

Paola Mendivil: Yes, even from the beginning. And I mean, it was 2007. So there was a lot of unemployment in the state, in the region. We have a lot of people that were moving out so we couldn't find employees either or customers, right? So that that time was challenging, especially, you know, they say within that 3 years, some restaurants fail and cannot keep open. And to see that even through the recession, and housing issues, all of that we kind of survive and made our way beyond that mark and then 5 years and then 10 years then and with the pandemic same thing, navigating uncertainty, the challenges. what was important for us at the time is having that communication and collaboration with other restaurant owners in our neighborhoods or beyond with the breweries with everyone in the industry, knowing that we were facing the same challenges. coming with resources come in with, you know, it just a place to vent if necessary, during that time. So I think that transparency, that communication again with those members help navigate the challenges. And, yes, it's unfortunate to see the many restaurants did not survive the pandemic. They close, not maybe not right away, but after 2 years we've seen them more and more going out of business, which is very unfortunate. But we see we understand the challenge.

Jennifer Moss: So what has it taken for you Paola to get, as you navigate through all of this, get comfortable in your own skin. You're like you said the face of the restaurant and you also work with Grow. How have you become comfortable within yourself as a female leader in our community?

Paola Mendivil: I feel like the love and support from the networks that you mention having other Latinas know that we work hard, we collaborate. We opened doors for others. That's what makes me stronger. Knowing that somebody else is succeeding or maybe that if I'm inspiring someone else to achieve their goals, whether is going back to school because I was high school dropout. But here was my second chance to go and finish high school and eventually college at the university. Finding your voice, not always knowing that what your career path would look like but knowing what your passion is and following that path. So the encouragement and empowerment from others is what keeps me going.

Jennifer Moss: That's good work there. So and I know you work with a lot of people between the restaurant and with Grow. What leadership traits do you like to see in those who you mentor, those who are on the journey with you, those who are in your employment? What kind of leadership skills so you like to see?

Paola Mendivil: I think consistency has to be one of them. And I apply that even to my workout routine, right? At the beginning of the pandemic of course, the gyms were closed. So we couldn't do anything, but at my home we improvise and had our little gym space and having our kids do some workouts with us. Helps us get moving, keep active, its healthy, not only for body for your mind. So I encouraged them to do the same. Whenever you have time to do self-care is important to do it. If it is getting your nails done, if it is having a coffee with a friend, if it is taking a walk, going for happy hour, whatever it is. Find that, too, because oftentimes we don't talk about the balance of our professional roles, our families, our own individual priorities. So I feel about that's important. And the consistency of doing what you want, not only once in like every few months is just like, get it in the calendar. If it’s important to you go set a time. And so you build those barriers about it, boundaries I mean. Saying all I'm committed to this because it's good for me. So I'm going to do it whatever it is. So that consistency and I guess another one will be having fun with it. You know, I actually got to a point of the restaurant that I was tired. I needed a break, you know, 15 years in this industry is not easy. Especially with the transition out of the pandemic with which we think we are. But we currently are not. You know, customers were a little more impatient. Now, we were not seen the same support or patients with us with the team with the business in general. And so I knew that I needed to kind of step back and say I need other leadership. And that's when my sister came in. So October last year, she offered to kind of like take my role of having that catering operations. And she's doing a fantastic job. I mean, one year in, she has already doubled the catering sells for the restaurant and before the pandemic numbers. So I knew that I was being a barrier to myself to the business because my mind just wasn’t there.

Jennifer Moss: You had done so much for so long. And you do, you get tired after a while.

Paola Mendivil: So I like knowing your limit, I guess.

Jennifer Moss: I was going to ask you how do you feel about getting it all done? But you kind of answered that those daily pressures and setting those guidelines getting that personal time that me-time, sometimes maybe even stepping back. When you look back at the 15 years, what inspired you to like to do the business to go into business with your mom? Was it like no choice thing because we're family? Was it to help El Granjero grow to where it is today? Or was it something that was in your spirit, your heart that you just wanted, just knew you wanted to do this?

Paola Mendivil: I don't think we had a plan like no plan at all. Our background in Mexico was that the hospitality industry, my mum used to work at five-star hotels and restaurants. And even at the age of 14 years, I started to work catering events at venues that a lot of people, you know, you don't have to be certified or anything just helping clear in the tables or set it up. Things like that. So I started and very young age, but what Inspire me was this sense of hospitality is making guests feel at home, that they're being taken care of. That to me, it's important. And so when we came, my mom was working there. its funny because she invited me to goal work with her. And I said, oh, no, I don't like that restaurant. I'm not working there forget it. And then, you know, 15 years later, we’re there once he took ownership. But yes, 15 years ago the owner was going out of business. He's like I'm closing down. I hope that you guys find another job in the middle of the recession. Goodbye. And that was my mom's like kind of passion and dream to have her own restaurant. So to me was like a no-brainer. And I'm like, yeah, let's go for it. We didn't even stop him being what if we fail and was just like, boom, let's get this menu. Let’s choose a name. She went to the bank and he's just like, get it going.

Jennifer Moss: And it all came together. It's not an easy thing to just, you know, we're going to just open a restaurant because it's difficult. It's hard work. So what an awesome opportunity and 15 years later here you are. So I always like to kind of round out things with this question is one of my favorites. What is it that makes you laugh? What do you do? Because everybody, you know, laughter is good for the soul. You talk about how you get burned out and you'd like, you know, I need to change your and your sister came in and started doing the catering piece. But along the way, along our journeys, you know, especially as women in business and doing different things, you need that opportunity to just chuckle a little bit. What makes you laugh?

Paola Mendivil: I will say singing. You know, for my birthday this past month I had a karaoke party, and it was so much fun. Singing because I'm a terrible singer, that's what makes it fun.

And that people, you know, step out of their comfort zones and did it with me anyway. We were like it was like a 90's themed party. So we had a great time. And so any opportunity that I have to just be myself and don't have that mask that sometimes in the professional world we have to, you know, have to be appropriate and behave and polite all the time and right there, just like, oh, my gosh, I'm singing my heart out to my favorite 90's song. And we're just having fun.

Jennifer Moss: So opportunity to let your hair down and just kind of do what you want to do. And with those who love you and are supporting that's important to us. So tell me, do you, you know, we've got a lot happening in this world that we live in today. People are often looking for that word of encouragement to talk a little bit about encouraging your employees earlier. Do have a chance, a favorite saying, a motto, or something that you keep in your heart, your space that you use for yourself or to others to help encourage along the way.

Paola Mendivil: So I grew up with my mother saying, querer es poses. In Spanish which translate to something like when you really want something, you're going to accomplish it. And I think I've heard that say if you want something, you don't find excuses, you fine kind of purpose behind of it. So, yeah, right now to me, we've seen a lot of people thinking about themselves first, which is great because before its all, go go go. Let me get this. Is it family work always put in everything else before them. And now I think we're seeing that they're more boundaries, that there are more structure or maybe more laid back. I don't know what it is, but even that makes them feel comfortable and able to recharge them and encourage that. And so sometimes I need to hear that advice, right? So just knowing what makes you happy and not feeling guilty about when you say no. Because when you say your limits and you're like, oh, but I should have and I feel sorry, it was like no. And my sister is like that. She's a Scorpio and she has no regrets. She's not being rude. She's like that's not going to work for me, this is what I'm doing. And to me was like, oh, my gosh, the beginning like we had that constant shock every time. But now I understand where she's coming from. And she's given me an opportunity to be another time type of leader because beyond being sisters and I'm her older sister being able to manage her time. Her work at the restaurant with the catering. I don't have doubts that she's doing a great job because she has amazing feedback. The results that I mentioned to you. But he's given me a chance to also not be so control freak, which I'm used to, because you want the event to go perfect, please your guests and your customers. But at the same time, it's like he'd given her that chance and sometimes they might fail. And that's okay because I have failed too. So, you know, growing together as a family in the business in our professional roles. She’s doing great.

Jennifer Moss: Awesome. What's the saying again? What’s it called?

Paola Mendivil: Querer es poses.

Jennifer Moss: Wonderful, love it. Paola Mendivil thank you so much for joining us today on Powerful Women: Let's Talk. We so enjoy our conversation with you. So nice talking with you and we want to thank you, too, for joining us for another edition of Powerful Women: Let's Talk. I’m Jennifer Moss do enjoy your day.

Paola Mendivil: Thank you.


Narrator: Produced by women, about women, these powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are, and how we live. Want to hear more Powerful Women: Let’s Talk? Get additional interviews at wgvu.org or wherever you get your podcast. Please rate and subscribe. Powerful Women: Let's Talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University. The views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters, or Grand Valley State University.


Jennifer is an award winning broadcast news journalist with more than two decades of professional television news experience including the nation's fifth largest news market. She's worked as both news reporter and news anchor for television and radio in markets from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo all the way to San Francisco, California.
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