Freddy and Joel’s Muy Cupcakery

Part of my job as a Kiva Fellow in Managua, Nicaragua is to facilitate connections between Kiva lenders and the borrowers.  A couple of weeks ago, I had a unique opportunity to participate in a TIME Magazine interview of an enthusiastic Kiva entrepreneur, Freddy Antonio Castillo Luna.


Freddy in his bakery

Kiva lender and journalist Joel Stein had been in contact with Fiona Ramsey, Public Relations Director at Kiva, in attempts to coordinate an interview between him and a Kiva entrepreneur he had supported.  Seemingly inspired by the cupcake mania in the US these days, Joel chose to interview baker Freddy.

Freddy runs Little Mango Bakery out of his home in the Libertad neighborhood on the outskirts of Managua, a business he started 14 years ago.  He received his Kiva loan to purchase basic ingredients for his baked goods through Afodenic.

I went to meet Freddy with Lismary Chacón, Managua branch manager, and Yader Videa Lezama, Freddy’s loan officer of Afodenic.  The first 20 minutes of the drive is on decent city streets, while the last 20 are quite the opposite – dirt roads with giant potholes that really put the 4×4 capacity to good use.  This is quite normal in Nicaragua, as no roads are really just mediocre – they are either smooth going or rough riding.

We arrive at Freddy´s home, which is one of many side-by-side small constructions bordering a narrow, steep, pothole-ridden road.  Freddy greets us with a warm smile and introduces us to his wife and three children.  I am thrilled to see that Freddy smiles, often, unlike what his original profile picture would lead me to believe.

Freddy gives us the bakery tour, all housed in his backyard, featuring a large oven, a machine to flatten the dough, scales, ingredients, and towers of trays of freshly prepared doughy sweets, ready for baking.

I explain to Freddy that Joel has supported his business through a Kiva loan, and that he is a journalist known for his wry humor.  Well, I hope that’s what I said, as conveying the nuances of journalistic prowess is not so easy in a second language.

Lismary and Yader from AFODENIC, waiting with Freddy in his living room

Lismary and Yader from AFODENIC, waiting with Freddy in his living room

We settle in, and.. we wait.  The four-way conference call finally comes, with Giovanna Masci, Microfinance Partnerships Manager for the Americas, and Fiona in San Francisco, Joel in New York, and Freddy, Lismary, Yader and me in Nicaragua. I am careful to tilt my head just so to maintain 2 service bars on my cellphone.

I understood that my function in the interview was not only to serve as a translator between Joel and Freddy, but also to be a cultural filter.  I think anyone who speaks two languages would agree that this is the most delicate aspect of translation – one with which I do not have a large amount of experience.

But we jumped right in, with Joel’s first proposition – to change the name of Freddy’s business to Joel and Freddy’s Extreme Cupcakes.  Whew, how does one convey the American marketing sense of extreme, not to mention the cupcake craze sweeping the nation – two cultural touchstones that don’t exactly translate in the land where cajetas reign supreme and most small businesses don’t have a name, much less a marketing strategy?

Freddy and me on conference call

Freddy and me on conference call

The cellular musical chairs went as such – Joel would ask me a question for Freddy, which I would translate while holding the phone to my ear.  I would then pass the cellphone to Freddy, which he would hold to his ear while responding to me.  He would then pass the cellphone back to me, and I would translate what he had said, and Giovanna would chime in with translation clarifications.

Cupcakes became ‘tiny round cakes’.  Oprah became Cristina.  Chai tea and red velvet flavors became ‘taste of India’ and ‘cherry chocolate’.  Joel proposed a price of $4 per cupcake, while Freddy thought that, yes, a new product to the market should cost more than typical products, but $.80 would be much more reasonable for his customers.

Joel’s approach to the interview was to play the part of an overzealous Kiva lender, eager to involve himself in Freddy’s business as a return on his investment.  Considering this was the first contact Freddy had ever had, in any way, with a Kiva lender, it was a real struggle to find the words to translate Joel’s questions correctly, without misleading Freddy as to his intentions, and those of Kiva.

Joel asked for a general estimate of what Freddy needed to improve his business to prepare for cupcake creation, so that he could approach Sprinkles in Los Angeles about a possible investment.  Freddy hopped up and led me back to the bakery, where he showed me missing wooden panels and holes in the tin walls, the incomplete roof and dirt floors.  As he looked around, I could see Freddy imagining what a partnership with an investor from the US could do for his business.  I was sensitive to Freddy’s emotions in this moment, sincerely hoping something might come of Joel’s offer.

With a hearty round of thanks and a sampling of the yummy pico tostado, we finished.  I felt my shoulders finally ease, realizing I had been tense with nerves and excitement throughout the two hour visit.  I can only imagine how Freddy must have felt, becoming Kiva’s star in Time Magazine through a cellphone interview, hot potato style.

Joel did contact Sprinkles, who offered to donate $750 towards the repair of Freddy’s roof, along with their strawberry cupcake recipe.  The reality of putting this generous offer to use involves many changes to the Little Mango Bakery – purchasing a refrigerator and dairy products, selling only to stores who have refrigeration, toying with the open-flame wood stove to successfully produce a moist cupcake, not to mention finding a cupcake tin itself!

Freddy’s story has served as an example of what I believe about loans versus donations.  Loans allow entrepreneurs to identify what they need to succeed, and attain it in small, well-planned steps, while donations can arrive on your doorstep without a real path towards utilizing them.  Microfinance is sustainable because it allows the entrepreneur to achieve their goals in the way they see fit in a timely manner.

Having already enjoyed Freddy’s sumptuous baked goods, I look forward to giving his version of a cupcake a try – though, the only strawberries I’ve seen in Nicaragua are imported.  I bet Oprah and Cristina would both give a passion fruit cupcake a try.

Read Joel Stein’s “Cupcake Kings Go Global” here

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WhitneyZimmermanKivaFellowNicaraguaI’m Whitney, Kiva Fellow KF6, serving 3 months in Managua, Nicaragua with CEPRODEL.


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