Latinx-Owned Businesses in Asheville, NC
Did you know that the Latinx community is the largest minority group in Western North Carolina? More than 20 Latin American countries are represented in this vibrant and rapidly growing population.
Within this kaleidoscope of cultures and customs there are numerous local Latinx Asheville business leaders and entrepreneurs across art, culinary, media and other spaces. Here are seven of their stories:
Hola Carolina / Adriana Chavela
If you’re visiting Asheville during summer festival season, there is one event you cannot miss. Now in its sixth year, the Hola Asheville festival celebrates Asheville’s diverse Latinx culture, and includes foods, traditional dances and cultural sharing from more than 20 countries. Hola Asheville takes place each summer in downtown Asheville’s Pack Square and is organized by the non-profit organization Hola Carolina.
Hola Carolina’s founder is Mexican-born Adriana Chavela. Chavela came to Asheville when she was 23 years old and spoke almost no English. To this day, she still remembers pointing to the photos on restaurant menus so she could order the food she liked.
Perhaps with that memory in mind, Chavela founded Hola Carolina in 2007 with the mission of "building bridges between cultures, embracing diversity, and creating more economically vibrant communities."
"Looking forward, it is important that we recognize that each American demographic group faces different and unique challenges, that we have diverse perspectives and diverse solutions that can coexist in an inclusive and thoughtful space," Chavela says of her work, stressing that "closing the gaps today will make us more competitive and stronger tomorrow."
Adriana Chavela was born in Mexico City and grew up in La Paz on the Baja California Peninsula. As a child, she remembers eating shellfish fresh out of the sea and gazing at gray whales in the Sea of Cortez. Back in Asheville, Chavela grew professionally under the tutelage of a mentor from the Blue Ridge Literacy Council, who helped her cultivate her literacy skills and build the confidence to speak English.
Since then, she has become an Emmy award-winning journalist, works as a diversity consultant for business leaders, and has appeared on television and radio as a commentator and expert on the Latinx community. Most recently, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper appointed Chavela to serve on the Governor's Advisory Council on Hispanic/Latinx Affairs.
You can visit the Hola Carolina store adjacent to the LEAF Global Arts Center on Eagle Street in downtown Asheville.
Miss Gay Latina Asheville / Elio González
Another one of Asheville’s most important Latinx events of the year is the Miss Gay Latina Asheville drag competition, held annually in November. When event founder Elio Gonzales started this project, he envisioned “a drag show that celebrates the artistic expression, diversity and Latinx heritage of the contestants.”
His vision came true with Miss Gay Latina Asheville (MGLA), a music, dance and theater show that’s been taking place in the city for more than 16 years. In the competition for the titles of Miss Gay Latina Asheville and Mister Gay Latino, contestants are free to be as creative as possible while "lighting up the stage with energy, excitement and enthusiasm," González says. An important part of the show is highlighting the Latinx heritage of participants. For example, those who compete must dress in traditional costumes that represent their country and ancestry.
"MGLA has exceeded all of our expectations. The venue quickly reaches capacity, with people lining up outside trying to get in," Gonzalez said. "The event is an unforgettable night that brings together people from all walks of life: hipsters, baby boomers, straight, Black, white, and brown come together to celebrate the night," added Gonzalez.
If you're in Asheville for the night of this competition, don’t miss it.
Contemporaneo Gallery / Francisco Troconis and Gary Culbertson
One of the many reasons Asheville is special is because of its vibrant art scene. Visiting galleries and studios, and appreciating the murals and street art in the River Arts District and downtown are must-do activities for visitors and locals alike.
Within Asheville’s arts community you can also find Latin American representation due in part to the pioneering work of Contemporaneo Gallery, the successful venture of Francisco Troconis along with husband Gary Culbertson.
Troconis was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, a city of sun and summer weather. At the age of 18 he began collecting art and in 2000 he immigrated to Miami, where he lived for 15 years until moving to Asheville.
When asked why he chose this area to start his project, Troconis explains, “Asheville is a city that celebrates and supports its community of artists.” Located at 34 Eastmoor Drive, Contemporaneo Gallery seeks to bring diverse, innovative art from Latin American countries to the Asheville art scene. The unique vision of Troconis and Culbertson is reflected in the gallery's collection, which, in addition to many Latinx artworks, also exhibits art from around the world.
"Asheville has a strong artistic tradition, but we felt that an important representation of what is happening in the world of the arts at an international level was missing, especially Latin America," explains Troconis.
This winter they inaugurated a new permanent exhibit: Casa Galería, where works are displayed in the context of a house or inhabited space. "We want people to be able to enjoy art in a space that's vivid," says Troconis.
Argentum Translations / Paula and Cynthia Penovi
Did you know that if you use Spotify in Spanish, there’s a good chance you’re reading the work of Asheville residents Paula and Cynthia Penovi? The Penovi twins are from Argentina, and the story of their company, Argentum Translations, is all about bringing their passion for communication and inclusivity here to Asheville.
"Our mission,” they explain, “is to create a world where everyone communicates as if they speak the same language and share the same culture; where no one is harmed by language barriers. We want to see a more inclusive, diverse, informed and communicated community in North Carolina and throughout the country."
How did they get to Asheville? Cynthia explains: "We have always been interested in the idea of speaking different languages, traveling and learning about other cultures. So in 2016, we embarked on this adventure and moved to the United States. We chose Asheville to enjoy the mountains, nature, culture and hiking, which we are passionate about," they said.
Reminiscing about their journey since 2016, Cynthia says “Opening your own business is not easy at all, and doing it in a country that is not yours, well, that takes the difficulty to another level.”
But in the time since, their services and clients have expanded to more than 50 languages for nonprofit organizations, hospitals, universities, government agencies and businesses around the world.
Short Street Cakes / Olga Jímenez
Pastry chef Olga Pérez Jímenez always dreamed of sharing her love for pastries in a small and adorable family shop. Today, that dream is a reality with Short Street Cakes. Located in a charming red brick building in West Asheville, Short Street Cakes may be Asheville’s best kept secret when it comes to vegan birthday and wedding cakes.
Originally from the state of Hidalgo, in Mexico, Olga followed her family to Asheville 19 years ago. "I decided to settle here because it is a very beautiful and quiet place, with a lot to do and visit."
"Short Street Cakes is a very familiar place and we make sure that everything we do is fresh, natural and organic," Olga says.
"I think that Latinos are rich in many aspects. We have charisma, we have the ability to learn and manage many things. We really want to get ahead and make ourselves noticed," she says. And, without a doubt, her cakes are getting noticed in Asheville.
Buggy Pops / Neomi Negron
Back in 2019, Asheville local Neomi Negron was on vacation in Tampa, Florida when she had a coconut ice cream popsicle that transported her to her childhood and also to the future. The pop reminded her of the flavors she had in Puerto Rico with her mother's family, and at the same time, it sparked the idea of starting a popsicle venture to replicate those flavors from her past and share them with the world.
Neomi began testing recipes to find the perfect taste of her childhood nostalgia. Eventually she perfected her cinnamon coconut popsicle, one of the stars of her lineup from Buggy Pops, a gourmet popsicle venture run by this Latina who moved to Asheville from New Jersey eight years ago looking for a better quality of life.
"My business is called Buggy Pops for two reasons,” explains Neomi. “Buggy is my daughter's nickname and I sell popsicles in a buggy!" She also explains that "it is a very small business in which I make popsicles by hand, with much love and affection."
Neomi loves sharing her story and identity as a Latina, which she says is "important in everything I do." For her, food is a way to connect with the community and create a way to unite.
You can find Buggy Pops at the East Asheville and North Asheville tailgate markets from April to November.
Julieta Fumberg / Photographer + Artist
Buenos Aires native Julieta Fumberg is a visual artist, photographer and painter. When looking for a place with a supportive arts community, several friends told her about Asheville and she decided to come visit for a few days. Needless to say, she decided to stay.
When describing her first impression of Asheville, Fumberg recalls: "Asheville had a lot of nature, it was like an enchanted forest; it had an art culture; everyone treated me so well without even knowing me; it had the mountains; it had everything."
"I think that being a woman, being a Latina and being an artist is something that makes me stand out in Asheville. It makes me special and gives me the opportunity to develop my art and show my work while also being able to highlight my history and my Latin culture," says Julieta.
A multifaceted artist who works with acrylics, watercolors, paper, canvas and photography, Julieta's work leans into strong colors and disruption. It can be seen at 48 Depot Street, Studio 120, in Asheville’s River Arts District.
Latinx businesses for the entire community
This list is just a sample of the diversity of Latinx businesses and ventures found in Asheville. But there are many more. For example, you can explore the Latinx food guide or read about the history of the Latinx community in this area. Let's celebrate Latinx culture in Asheville!
Photo credits: Photos courtesy Hola Carolina/Ron Stamey; MGLA; Contemporaneo Gallery; Argentum Translations; Short Street Cake; Buggy Pops and Julieta Fumberg.