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How a seasoned restaurateur built her latest success with help from a Kiva loan

Noemi, a restauranteur, beams as she talk about the legacy she leaves for her grandchildren with her business.

In Crucita, Ecuador, the roar of the Pacific Ocean plays a part in every conversation.

This is especially true on the patio of the The Aloha Bar Restaurant, where Noemi, the owner of this popular luau-themed gathering spot, gently raises her voice to be heard above the waves crashing on the shore just a few steps away. But she has come to enjoy the waves that rumble eternally in the background to her life and livelihood.

“I’m from Crucita, I was born and raised here, my family is from here,” says the Ecuadorian entrepreneur of the seaside enclave that caters to the many sports enthusiasts who come to parasail in the blue waters, hang-glide off the cliffs, or simply enjoy the beaches.

They also come for the food: Fresh seafood platters, empanadas, plantains, and other South American specialities are served up at the Aloha, which Noemi opened a few years ago with help from a Kiva loan.

“It was the capital I was able to use to acquire this particular location,” explains the restaurateur over the sounds of the ocean.
With its expansive views and relaxed vibe, The Aloha is a big hit with visitors and locals alike, though its success is hardly by accident.

Fund a food service business

Building a thriving new business from decades of experience

“My husband was always in this fish business, and I told him I wanted to work, I wanted to make my own money”

The restaurant business can be a tricky venture, but this is not Noemi’s first go-round.

More than 25 years ago, the mother of five decided to create an income of her own from the ocean’s bounty.

“My husband was always in this fish business, and I told him I wanted to work, I wanted to make my own money,” she recalls. “I said I could sell, I could start my own restaurant. And like that, little by little, I got the support from my family.”

In order to fund that first seafood eatery, Noemi joined ESPOIR, the Ecuadorian microfinance institution that is now a Kiva lending partner.

“I was one of the first participants in my group, I was one of the founders,” she says, thinking back to the trepidation she felt at the beginning of her microfinance journey.

“I admit that I was nervous the first time I went through the process of receiving and repaying the loan, as I had never done something like this and wasn’t sure how it would go.”

ESPOIR’s emphasis on helping women includes wraparound services, including a busy roster of educational resources like financial literacy, business training, and importantly, how to manage the responsibilities of taking out a loan.

“They teach us how to invest it in our business as opposed to using it to pay off other debts,” Noemi says of the foundation’s representatives from the office in nearby Portoviejo.

“For example, if I want to open a store, I need to have capital, I need to look at the costs, I need to look at what I’ll be able to earn myself…I have to ensure the loan will bring me benefits, otherwise I’ll just have more debt.”

The businesswoman has taken that counsel to heart over the last 25 years. She expresses gratitude for the loans that have enabled her to start and grow several small restaurants in her coastal hometown—though her efforts have not always been met with ease.

Further reading: Borrower protection in microfinance

Forced to shut down, building again

Noemi and her family were forced to adapt when the pandemic hit - forcing a shutdown of the Aloha Bar.

Soon after Noemi took out her most recent loan to open the Aloha, the world took a turn.

“The pandemic arrived when we had been open only for just four months, so we had to close,” she remembers, describing quarantining at home with her entire family. Though she had a bit of savings, there was no income at all—though fortunately, between fish from the ocean and the restaurant’s pantry, there was plenty to eat.

“Of course, we had already made purchases for those months—materials, ingredients—we had to eat everything. So when we finally returned, we had to start over from zero.”

As tourists returned and the restaurant became busy again, she has since been able to build back her income and resume paying back her Kiva loan.

“It takes a lot of discipline and responsibility to stay on top of the repayments,” says the seasoned borrower.

Her hard work and smart management sets an example for her children, several of whom work alongside her at the Aloha.

“My biggest pride is my family. When I learn something, I teach them,” she says of the legacy she is creating with the restaurant for future generations.

“That boy over there is my grandson,” she points out. “Whenever I give him advice, he says to me, ‘I want to be like you.’”

Make a loan to a parent

More than just a loan: fostering community & friendship

“I don’t go for the loan itself, I go and stay because I don’t want to leave the group. I’m always looking out for the group.”

Speaking of families, Noemi remains close with the members of her original loan group, some who have been attending meetings for almost half of their lives, laughing and learning together.

“Our group is not colleague-to-colleague; it is more like a family,” she says.

“I don’t go for the loan itself, I go and stay because I don’t want to leave the group. I’m always looking out for the group.”

As one of the group’s founders, she welcomes new members, though with so much experience and knowledge of what’s at stake, she is protective of her reputation.

“I know some people who want to join, but it’s not always easy to recommend them, because these recommendations would reflect on me,” she considers.

“I know keeping up with the repayments is work, and some are not currently in economic circumstances that would allow them to keep up.”

As the blue waves of the Pacific that have pounded the shore for eons draw more visitors to Crucita, the town and its economy are growing with more development and tourist-based ventures. However, the accomplished entrepreneur continues to practice the judicious business advice she has learned over the years and freely shares with others:

“The money is there to invest in something that will lead to greater profits. If it won’t do that, then I don’t have a reason to take the loan in the first place.”

Kiva loans help fund a lifetime of success. Find borrowers with proven repayment histories here.

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About the author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Jessica Leigh Lebos is Kiva's Senior Storyteller and an award-winning writer based in Savannah, Georgia, USA. Covering social justice, cultural equity, sustainable growth, financial literacy, and always celebrating others' success, she is thrilled to help share Kiva's mission—and the stories of the people it connects.