In what part of town do you live?
How long have you lived in the area?
Five years. Before that, in Caracas, Venezuela.
Why did you decide to move to Florida?
Many reasons. The most obvious one is the political, economic, and sociological situation. It’s a very complex country to live in and conditions are hard to build a family and run a business. We wanted to find another opportunity to keep doing what we do, which is bringing our wonderful product to more people, and also to find a place where we could build a family and establish ourselves, without being afraid of being kidnapped, robbed, or sent to jail. The government is not very friendly to companies that work with food, because it’s related to food security.
What food product were you making in Venezuela?
We do craft yogurt. I’ve been making yogurt for the past 16 years. It started as my mom’s idea to give us healthy and delicious foods. We started making it in my mom’s house. We were there for two years, and then we opened a factory. We got to 1% of the market share of all yogurt in Venezuela, which was big for a craft factory.
You’ve continued making yogurt here. Would you share about how you spend your week?
I’m usually producing a lot of yogurt, cooking, and shopping for ingredients. I spend a lot of time, mostly in my head, creating and imagining how to combine flavors. Then I’m running around, giving the yogurt away between Broward and Miami. I drive around all day going from my house in Weston, dropping off my son at school or picking him up, then I go to the factory where it’s just me, my friend Beth, and my husband Ricardo. We always make dinner at home, and if everybody’s home, then we sit down and have a dinner. Sometimes, I get home around 2:00 AM, depending on how busy we are. Yeah, it’s a lot of work.
How do you decompress?
I do exercise, that’s, non-negotiable. I go out on Sunday morning and usually one other day of the week. I mostly run and walk, and now I have my bike again! I’m super excited about that. I also have a skateboard, but there are not enough hills in Weston to use it.
Tell us a little about the three of you and how you work together?
My husband joined the yogurt business five years ago when we left Venezuela. He’s a tax lawyer. Beth, who is now my friend, used to be a frequent customer at our old place. After the explosion, I needed help. We still had orders, and I had to fire everybody. She said, ‘I’ll help you.’ She started cooking with me and we call her the ‘Chief Make it Happen Officer.’ I’m usually in the kitchen, Ricardo’s making yogurt, and Beth takes care of the rest – sales, customers, and planning.
What was the explosion?
We used to have a very small factory and restaurant in Plantation. After two and a half years of being in business, our neighbor had a pizza oven with a gas leak. It exploded in the middle of the morning, and we had to shut down the business. It was a massive explosion and the plaza was closed for more than six months.
How are you rebuilding the business?
One of the things that we were doing in that place was corporate catering. The explosion was on a Saturday, and we had to deliver a huge catering for 600 people on Monday morning. It was all done, but we lost power, so we lost all the food that we had prepared. We called some friends who owned a bakery and they let us come and cook, and we were able to deliver that catering Monday morning. Then our former clients start calling us and saying, ‘please – we really need your food.’ We started doing individual orders, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the past two years. Three months ago, we moved into a new factory in Miami, and we are back to producing yogurt. Now we are starting to sell through food service and to restaurants and bakeries, and we have super exciting new partners that have farmer’s market stands like you and Buster (Counter Culture) who are offering our yogurt as part of their selection.
Tell us about your yogurt?
We make craft yogurt. We try to bring yogurt as fast as we can to the consumer. And our yogurt has a very short shelf life, about 18 days versus 90 days for commercial yogurt. And it’s on purpose because we don’t want to add anything weird. It’s just milk, cultures, the fruit that we’re using, and sometimes a sweetener like sugar, brown sugar, maple, or honey. It’s barely processed, clean craft food.
Would you teach us the basics of making yogurt?
Get the best milk you can. Ideally whole milk, because you want all that fat to give it really nice texture and flavor. Heat it to close to a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t own a thermometer, you can just put your finger in. If you can’t wait until 10, it’s too hot. Then you add your culture. You can use any yogurt that you buy from the supermarket, or you can get cultures, which is what we do. We have our own blend of cultures. It’s a secret. It’s my blend. Not all cultures stay the same. Some have more flavors and give you thicker yogurt. If you using a quart of milk, you can add one or two tablespoons of yogurt after it’s warm. Then, keep it warm for 12 hours. The next day, you’ll see, it’s a miracle. Milk transforms into yogurt. If you want it thicker, you can either put it in a cheese cloth bag and make sure you have a bowl underneath to catch all the liquid. That liquid is called whey. The longer you leave it, the thicker it gets.
Where do you get your milk from?
Our milk is from grass fed cows in the north of Florida, next to Georgia.
Is a yogurt culture like a sourdough starter? Did you bring the cultures from Venezuela?
I would like to say yes, but no. When you’re making yogurt, we don’t reuse our cultures because it will change the flavor. If your milk is too hot, acid cultures will grow more and then you’re going to have a more acidic yogurt. If you then use cultures from that batch, it’s going to be naturally an acidic yogurt. I always like to start with a fresh batch of cultures.
Where do you source the best cultures?
I was happily surprised to learn that your yogurt is 100% lactose free. Is it the milk you are using or a process?
We do two things to make it lactose free. The first one is the natural fermentation, the cultures that we were talking about eat the sugar of the milk, which is called lactose. We do a very long 12 hour fermentation, so we make sure they eat a lot of that lactose. Commercial yogurt is only fermented for four hours. Then, we add an enzyme called lactase which breaks the sugar molecules into two different sugars and then the lactose doesn’t exist anymore. Our yogurt is really light on your belly.
It can be difficult doing business with your spouse. How are you and Ricardo finding balance?
Before the explosion, I would take care of the restaurant and Ricardo would take care of the yogurt factory. Now everybody’s kind of mixed together in the same space. It’s super challenging. And then, our chat about yogurt never stops – up to the point that my six year old doesn’t want to hear anything about yogurt and only wants Dannon drinkable yogurt. The thing we’ve figure out is to have your own space and do your own thing. I do exercise on my own and then he plays tennis and that’s really good for him. I think it’s about being honest about your strengths and your weaknesses.
You came by our drive through Saturday. Would you share about that experience?
It was like going into a museum. It was like going on vacation. I was surprised by the uniqueness of what you do and how you, as business people, evolved from the traditional farmer’s market, into this unique concept and how you’re still very successful, and how people love you and follow you. That was super nice to see and inspiring. Talking to both of you was very refreshing because I realized that we have common goals. In your case it’s to bring all the wonderful things that you plant to people and how Adena takes her knowledge and puts it into making delicious things. She gets people to eat things that they would never eat, but the way she cooks them and shows it to them, makes it irresistible. It’s very similar to what I do. It’s also nice to feel like you’re not alone. There are other people really passionate about bringing better food to people.
What did you pick up on Saturday when you came by?
The Rainbow smoothie is surprisingly delicious. That was my breakfast. I felt so great for the rest of my day. Then I took home the Turmeric Concentrate. By the end of the morning, I like a hot drink and I try to avoid coffee, so today I used the concentrate to make a golden milk. I shared your guacamole last night. We made arepas, which is a Venezuelan cornmeal dish. We used white cheese and the guacamole and they were amazing. My husband devoured the Turmeric Heart cookies. I couldn’t find them, so there were very successful in my house. I had your avocado today in my butternut squash soup. And, while I was cooking my soup, I was snacking on the dehydrated starfruit, and I couldn’t stop. They are crunchy and sweet and tart and dry. I liked the experience of how it plays in my mouth.
What other restaurants or places do you all enjoy going to that you might recommend?
I used to be a restaurant critic at age 19. I’m serious. I had a food blog when nobody was doing it, but that was 20 years ago. I really don’t do a lot of restaurants here. If we want to go out in Weston, we go to two places. Pizza Lovers – he’s Italian and makes very thin crust pizza. And there’s a sushi place called KEUH. In Miami, I love Mandolin, the Greek restaurant. And, Motek, which serves Israeli food. In Little Havana there’s a place called El Sanguich, for Cuban sandwiches. I love it.
What’s Miami’s best kept secret?
The Miami Beach Botanical Gardens specifically in the corner with the rainbow eucalyptus and the Ylang Ylang tree. I am a person who thinks a lot in black and white. I’m very strict and disciplined. When I saw that tree, that has all those colors in the bark, I realized for the first time that bark can be different colors. At that same time, I was doing a program for small business owners and they said, you have to learn to live in the gray, and need to be flexible. So, maybe this was my inspiration to start living my life in colors and not to be so rigid about everything.
What for you is a worthy splurge?
Time, having nothing to do. Sitting and watching a tree or sitting on my porch and just watching the leaves move.
Are there any community events or philanthropic groups that you would like to promote or share?
It’s not local, but my sister runs a beautiful nonprofit in Venezuela. She’s an architect and her thesis at MIT was about making public spaces better, especially for kids. She goes to low-income communities and works with the kids to choose a public place to make better. She has received awards from the UN her organization is called Tracing Public Spaces.
Is there a question that you would like to ask us?
(MV) As family business owners in Florida, working with craft food, what would be your advice for someone that’s not from the area?
(A+W) You’re doing it. Keep focusing on your community and creating food with intention.
Is there a question, challenge, or words of advice that you would like to ask the readers?
(MV) How can we connect with more people that would appreciate what we do?