Pandemic profiles: Opening a business just as the pandemic began; There’s no ‘lockdown’ for this expat

Nov 27, 2020 | 3 comments

Editor’s note: This is the sixth in an ongoing series that looks at how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting the lives of Cuencanos and Cuenca expats.

By Robert Bradley

It has often been said that, in business, timing is everything. If you are ahead of the curve you are well poised to benefit from changing consumer habits. An essential feature for any new enterprise is establishing a presence in the marketplace by securing a loyal customer base. This takes time, so most successful businesses spend a lot of resources during the first few months on advertising.

Gramm owners Jessica and Marla

Let’s consider Gramm, a Cuenca bulk grain, spice, and specialty foods business at Sucre and Estevez de Toral. It opened its doors on March 2, just days before the entire country closed its doors on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gramm’s owners, Jessica and Marla, were terrified. Their investment in the business was considerable and nearly all of their products had “sell by” dates that required a constant rotation of inventory.

As soon as the shock of their ill-timed opening wore off they got to work building a social media presence and developing a database to reach out to the community in every way they knew how. They re-opened their doors in May and have continued to broadcast their presence on social media and through their website.

“There were very few people on the streets when we re-opened and sales were slow but we managed to build a small client base that has helped keep our doors open,” Marla said.

Although they have a long way to go to establish a prosperous business, Jessica and Marla are committed to nurturing their business by providing healthy food in an ecologically responsible manner. This is more than a job to them, it is a vision of how to change the world for the better.

There’s no ‘lockdown’ for this expat
Janet Engel hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota in the U.S. She has been a resident of Cuenca for almost four years and is studying to become a citizen of Ecuador. She has loved Ecuador and has dreamed about living here since her first visit with her family when she was 15.

Expat adventurer Janet Engel

“I worked in sales and marketing for the cruise industry so foreign lands are not so foreign for me,” she said. Although her job kept her saddled to a desk, the many tales she heard from those “on board,” and the fond memories of Ecuador were all the motivation she needed to make a move.

As soon as she was able, she packed her bags, boarded a flight, and moved on down, well aware that unlike the clients aboard a cruise ship, she would rarely, if ever, be back. In fact, one of her first duties here was to ink her love for Cuenca on her arm by sporting a lovely tattoo of the new cathedral domes and a string of flowers on her right arm.

Engel plans to teach English but not right away. Instead, she is pursuing one of her passions: hiking. When asked how the pandemic has changed her life she said, “I am not bothered by the restrictions and danger, in fact, I barely notice them. Most of my time is spent high in the Cajas, learning about the diversity of the highland mountains and watching the native birds and wildlife. There will be time to explore Cuenca again in the future but I am perfectly happy trekking with friends and spending my time in the healthy environment the natural park has to offer.”

She adds: “The diversity of the biosphere in the Cajas is perhaps the greatest in the world. Those who take the time to explore the  lakes, streams and meadows that are literally next door to Cuenca will be rewarded beyond their dreams.”

Janet Engel has found her place in the world.


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