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A Better Bakery in Bethel

Youth an Advantage, Not Impediment, to Food Truck Entrepreneur

It might have been really easy to quit if it weren’t for the Women’s Business Development Council.
Nicole Samela-Gonzalez, Co-Owner of Hapa Food Truck, and Hapa Food Concepts, LLC
Meet Nicole Samela-Gonzalez

Co-Owner, Hapa Food Truck, and Hapa Food Concepts, LLC

The Backstory

The flat-out laughing was downright hurtful. That, and the blatant eye rolling.

Those were the most common reactions that then-25-year-old Nicole Samela-Gonzalez and her husband, Chris, were met with nearly every time they went to a bank in search of a small business loan or approached a real estate agent to scout locations to launch their dream.

“It became almost predictable, sadly enough,” she said. “A lot of people looked down on us when they saw a very young woman and a young Filipino immigrant in front of them. We don’t necessarily fit the mold of what people in this area would see as successful.”

The experiences left the husband-wife duo feeling helpless and stuck. “But we found the Women’s Business Development Council. All of the women there gave us the confidence to move forward; they believed in our brand when others didn’t.”

Hapa was launched in 2014 as a food truck serving Asian Pacific American cuisine made with local and responsibly sourced ingredients. “Basically, it’s American street food with an Asian Pacific twist,” Samela-Gonzalez explained, recalling how she and her husband were inspired after living and working in Maui for more than a year. “We fell in love with the culture and people. The style of food was close to home for Chris who was born in the Philippines.”

“When our food truck concept first came to mind, we named it Hapa, which is a Hawaiian word for someone who is partially Asian or Pacific Islander. Hapa is an identity for many mixed-race individuals and we wanted to build a culture around that identity through food.”

The truck -- whose location rotates daily through a weekly schedule that includes stops in Stamford, Norwalk, and Westchester County -- serves food made with fresh, flavorful ingredients from a variety of ethnic influences. One of Hapa’s signature dishes is a burger on a purple bun made from ube -- a brightly colored yam that’s a staple in the Filipino diet -- served with caramelized onions inspired by Samela-Gonzalez’s stepfather’s recipe and finished with a smear of Korean hot pepper aioli that she describes as “very hapa.” The truck’s Philippine rice bowls made with local ingredients and fries seasoned with dried seaweed, sesame and salt are both customer favorites that often receive praise in local and statewide media.

“We were so young when we started; honestly, we were just winging it at first. I kept a full-time job in case it didn’t work out but I quit right after we opened because it was clear that the demand was there; we were swamped!”


How Women's Business Development Council Helped

Hapa Food Truck, which often caters weddings and parties, will soon add a sit-down restaurant in Stamford. But finding financing and the right location to make their dream reality proved to be a daunting challenge. “So many banks and real estate agents dismissed us immediately because of our youth and limited assets rather than seeing the value that our age actually brings to the table.”

“It might have been really easy to quit if it weren’t for the Women’s Business Development Council,” she said. “They helped us form a solid business plan and connected us with a great banker – someone who never mocked us or laughed at our vision. They also helped me find a food service consultant and a contractor who both believe in us and are now part of our team.” Samela-Gonzalez says that despite her hectic, 7-day-a-week work schedule, her door has always been open to those seeking advice on opening their own food truck business.

“It takes just one person who believes in you to stop you from giving up,” she said. “Just like the Women’s Business Development Council did for me.”


Find Out More About Hapa Food Truck, and Hapa Food Concepts, LLC

For more information visit http://www.hapafoodtruck.com.