icon icon icon icon icon icon icon

Burgers, with a side of empowerment: Elisa Alvarado, fast food entrepreneur

Elisa “Ely” Alvarado is a rural bank member and small business owner in Villeneuva, Honduras. Photos: Laura Noel/CARE

Elisa “Ely” Alvarado is a rural bank member and small business owner in Villeneuva, Honduras. Photos: Laura Noel/CARE

Elisa “Ely” Alvarado started her fast-food business with just 1,000 lempiras ($40), in a tent on a vacant lot.

Here, on a neighborhood street in the town of Villanueva, Honduras, just south of San Pedro Sula, the country’s financial capital and second-largest city, she began selling baleadas, a traditional Honduran handheld food, to passerby.

Today, this personable, good-humored young woman offers a full fast-food menu centered around burgers, chicken sandwiches, and wings, from a sturdy concrete building on the exact same site where she first had her tent, but now with branding that rivals any of her multinational rivals out on CA-5, the main drag between San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, the capital.

Ely isn’t stopping with one successful brick-and-mortar location. On this particular day she is opening up a second branch, and she already invested in a food truck to serve events. With the support of partner Cargill, CARE has helped along the way by forming rural savings banks, which offer entrepreneurs like Ely access to micro-credit. CARE has also offered business management training. Her ambition, she says, is to go into franchising, with multiple locations in Honduras and potentially beyond.

‘Yes, I’m the owner.’

Ely just opened her second restaurant in November 2022

As the daughter of entrepreneurs, with a father in coffee farming and a mother who owned a small grocery store, Ely knew from an early age that she’d follow in their footsteps. But in this traditionally macho culture, new customers aren’t always prepared for a woman owner, and a young woman at that.

“They think that a woman can’t run a business,” she says. “When I tell them that I am the owner they don’t believe me. They think it’s my husband. But thanks to the training [CARE has] given me, thanks to self-esteem and empowerment, I have understood that I can speak up.”

Fighting to make it

Ely’s restaurant, like every business in Honduras, had to fight for survival during COVID-related disruptions, which forced her to shut down for three months. She was responsible for all her utility and overhead expenses, but without an income to offset it.

The hurricanes of 2020, which were only two weeks apart, also affected her business. First directly, with flooding that resulted in damage and lost inventory, then indirectly, as customers who had lost everything could no longer afford to visit.

“But the truth is that you fight, and you always make it through,” she says.

A meal costs money, but a positive example is free

Ely’s enterprising spirit has also taken root in the next generation. The display of inexpensive toys next to the cash register isn’t hers, but belongs to her son, Delmer Josué Carbajal, age 10.

“I explained to him the importance of having a business, and a year ago he told me, ‘Mommy help me, I want to have my business,’” Ely recalls. “Here in the store, I sell his toys and I’m teaching him how to calculate the costs thanks to the trainings and, with the profits, I tell him ’Save them, because from there you invest again.’”

Ely’s entrepreneurial influence has extended beyond her family to the broader community.

“Quite a few clients… have asked me for the secret, how to start,” she says. “I tell them how much I started with, with a thousand lempiras, and I tell them: it is hard, you have to fight, you have to be patient, you have to treat your clients well, and you have to work with love.

“I [also] tell them that it’s important they get training. I tell them that when you want training, I’ll help you. Every time we go to a training, we learn new things.”

Back to Top