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Celebrating Local Businesses During Hispanic Heritage Month:
Pura Vida Ville

Q&A with Tatiana Vergara, owner of Pura Vida Ville

October 2021

Tatiana Vergara Valerin (Tatiana Warren) and her husband, Reginald Warren, are the owners of Pura Vida Ville Tacos, Burritos and More. In business for five years, Pura Vida Ville serves up fresh and authentic dishes from Mexico and Costa Rica, all made from scratch. For more information, call 585.967.9826 or go to the Pura Vida Ville Facebook page.

What inspired you to want to be a business owner in Rochester, and how did you get started?

I went to college in Costa Rica and graduated with a degree in preschool education, but I ended up enjoying business. So I worked in accounting with credit and collections for small businesses in Costa Rica. This is where I saw the power of a good idea, hard work, and the success that can come from that. I worked in supporting microlending for 21 years.

I came to this beautiful country with many expectations and many desires for improvement. At first, I was only coming for a month to meet the man who is now my husband, but deep inside, the day I left my country, I knew that I might not return to Costa Rica. With mixed feelings about leaving my two children and family, I arrived in Rochester on April 10, 2013.

God has always been good to me since I set foot in this country with only $100 in my wallet. He gave me the ideal husband—he and his family have adopted me as one of their own and have always supported me and my children. I’ve never lacked for work. I worked in two restaurants, then on a farm picking cabbages and potatoes. I’ve worked cleaning houses and in a flower shop as a flower designer. Finally, God gave me the joy of becoming a partner in a Mexican restaurant, and it was there that I found my passion and am now the owner of Pura Vida Ville Tacos, Burritos and More.

Sometimes people are scared to do something. I'm not scared to do anything. Our kids need to learn that work ethic. - Tatiana Vergara Valerin

Please elaborate on your passion and mission.

At Pura Vida Ville, we offer popular Mexican food, as well as food from Costa Rica. We’re the only restaurant in Rochester and Western New York that offers Costa Rican food. We meet many people who have vacationed in Costa Rica, fell in love with the food and are now loyal customers. You know, Pura Vida means “pure life” or “good life.” I’ll ask my customers in English, "Hi, how are you?" And they answer, "Pura Vida." Personally, my passion comes from our customers because they warm my heart. For example, years ago, some new customers came into the restaurant. They told me, "We came here to support small businesses. This is our first time here. We really like to see people be successful." Our customers are always so thankful and kind.

“Personally, my passion comes from our customers because they warm my heart.”

Do you have mentors or sources of inspiration and guidance that have helped you along the way?

One of my mentors was Jose—one of the owners at the restaurant where I used to work, called Itacate. He opened his door to me when I came here. He and his wife taught me to cook Mexican food. I had never worked in the restaurant business at all before I came here, so they taught me all I know. Now, I continue to learn from my son, Daniel. He has worked as a chef at top resorts and hotels in Costa Rica. With his help, we have put together a unique menu for the beautiful people of Rochester who, with their kindness, have always given us their support. We are very thankful to all who have always supported us: friends, family, and customers.

What does it mean to you being a Hispanic business owner?

It means a lot, because when I came here, my dad didn’t think I was going to make it. He said, "There’s no way you can do it. You’ve always sat at a computer in a bank." I know it's a small restaurant right now, but honestly, it feels like it’s mine. It's us. It's my husband and me and my kids. And for me, it's good to see how people can be inspired by us, too. Sometimes people are just scared to do something. Honestly, I'm not scared to do anything. Our kids need to learn that work ethic.

“It's a small restaurant right now, but it feels like it’s mine. It's us. It's my husband and me and my kids.”

What key impacts have you and your business made so far?

During the past few years, we’ve helped people with meals. We worked with the Gates Public Library to teach people to cook some dishes from our restaurant. The type of food we serve has made an impact on people. People from the US will visit Mexico or Costa Rica, then come back and find a place like us. A small place, with really good food. It's fresh. Everything is from scratch. And the customers will say, "I’ve been there, I’ve eaten that food. And since I’ve come to America, I’ve been trying to find a good, authentic Mexican or Costa Rican restaurant to go to.” They’re so happy to find us because it brings them back. And it's the same for me, as a Costa Rican. When I first came to America, I just wanted to eat something from my country, but I couldn’t find anything. Now, there are a few Costa Ricans here, and they are so happy to find us and eat food that is familiar to them.

Describe one situation that left a particular impact on you.

It's funny, because Costa Rican Independence Day was September 15. A couple of friends wanted to celebrate with us on that day, so I was cooking some Costa Rican food in the restaurant. Before we left for the party, there were two customers in the restaurant, and I heard them talking in Spanish. I went over to greet them and ask where they are from. She said, "I'm from Costa Rica,” and her husband said, “I am from Spain." We invited him to celebrate Independence Day. As we were talking, I found out the girl went to high school with my son in Costa Rica, where he is currently living.

I told my son about this, and he said he knows her. Now that girl is texting me all the time, saying "I was so blessed to find a Costa Rican restaurant and you guys, especially because you are Daniel's mother." Things like that make us feel like we are in the right place. It feels like community.

What obstacles have you faced as a business owner and how have you overcome them?

When the pandemic started, I was afraid because we are not a big restaurant. We weren’t sure how we would cover employees’ salaries. We closed for only one or two days to figure out if we would stay open. We wanted to be consistent. We didn't want to close, then open one day, close another day. Whoever was going to come would come and support. So we stayed open. We were sharing everything on Facebook. At the time, we were serving everything to go, and this was a positive thing for our restaurant. People were ordering food through Grubhub or other services. That helped us a lot. But sometimes, because the customers were afraid of getting COVID, they would just tip us without even buying anything, to make sure we continued business.

What have you learned from your experience as a business owner?

Don’t quit. I have learned we have to have energy and be healthy so we can continue. I cannot be a coward. Sometimes people don't want to be business owners, even when they have what they need to be successful. I don't want to be like that. Sometimes it's hard for me. Sometimes I'm frustrated. Sometimes I even think about closing the restaurant. But I say to myself, "No, you have to continue. Look at what we have right now." Maybe it's my ego, but I want to make people proud. I want to show my kids, my husband and my family that this is our business. We need to fight for it.

What do you hope to achieve next?

We want to get the coffee business going. Right now, we don't have that much time to improve that business, but we are going to Costa Rica in October. We want to find a producer, a farm over there, to bring the coffee beans over here. And we can grow our business with a coffee roaster and some other things like that.

We do sell coffee now. I have a website, And I have coffee from all over the world—from Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia. We have someone who will roast it and ship it out for free. But what I'm trying to do is get our own brand of coffee straight from Costa Rica. That's why we're going to meet with some farmers there and try to work a deal. I have a couple folks here in the area that are roasters, and I want to try to get them to team up with us to develop our brand here.

What advice can you give to other entrepreneurs and business owners, particularly Hispanic people, who are looking to start their own business?

You can do it. Obviously, you have to find the right place to go in whatever business you’re in, whether it's a restaurant or not. When it comes to business relationships, I think you need only to be honest with people and have a really good work ethic. These qualities are the reason why Jose asked me to be a partner. I was just doing cleaning on the weekends when I started working at Itacate. One day, Jose’s wife was sick, and he asked if I could help in the kitchen. I said, "I don't know anything about kitchens," but he said, "I'll teach you." And he did. And he kept teaching me after that, because I was hungry for more. I wanted to make it happen. One day he said, "You know what? Maybe you can help my wife in the kitchen from now on. Do you want to?" That’s how I got started—because I was an honest and hard worker. These qualities are important, not only because they will help you, but also because they will help our kids who are watching and learning from us. After all, they're going to work one day, too.