Sugar and Spice, these cookies look nice! Interview with Frank Almeida
Rick Griffith (RG)
You came to Buenos Aires from the Unites States and have built your own business here. Why did you choose to do this and what challenges did you face in making this move?
Frank Almeida (FA)
Well, I actually came for love and not for business. I followed my then girlfriend—now wife, down to Argentina. She had been living in the States for several years and completed her MBA in Chicago, then managed to get a job after she graduated. She finally could not stand being homesick anymore and asked me if I would be willing to go to Argentina with her. I have always been curious as to what it would be like living somewhere else and my curiosity, paired with my inability to just let her go, got the better of me.
You are currently raising a family in Buenos Aires. What obstacles have you faced and what are the differences you have seen in relation to your upbringing in Chicago?
It actually seems like it would be more difficult to do what we are doing here in the States. We all live so close to each other here. My wife’s family helps out and having a maid is not an unattainable luxury here, so we don't have to worry about child care. This city is very child friendly, not so much in infrastructure, but in attitude and philosophically.
I also don't feel the heavy hand of racism. I am not saying it does not exist here, it's just different and mostly directed at a different group of people than I was used to seeing back home. I find that I have to introduce the concept to my kids and explain to them that some people look down on others because of silly things like the color of their skin, or because they were born in a different country. What is happening now with President Obama and the far right wing of US politics is a perfect example of American racial tension.
But, living here also introduced them to theft pretty early in their lives. Petty theft is very common here and they are aware that people have taken things from us several times. I have had my car broken into and this last time they took the car stereo, so they are not very happy about that especially since I refuse to get another one.
What is your favorite tasty treat you make and can it be mailed to me?
My personal favorite is the chocolate chip cookies. I also love the almond biscotti as they are so light that you can’t stop eating them. The savory cheese cookies are also fantastic and when you pair them with either beer or wine you will again have a hard time stopping.
Currently I can't mail them to you, but who knows down the line if that will eventually be a possibility. I am currently talking to importers in various countries including the US. If you come down to the shop I will most certainly share some cookies with you.
(RG)Well that sounds like enough of a reason to come down in and of itself, I will definitely be by the shop on my next trip down.
Who has been the biggest inspiration to pursue your passion or calling, maybe name a few if you can?
My calling in life was so unexpected. What was more important was my being open to being totally flexible. I met a girl who one day asked me to live in a foreign country. Obviously, the easy thing for me to do would have been to stay with what I know and stay put. But, besides being in love, I was very curious. I had before me a chance to not only see a different part of the world, but to live there. I found myself not being able to say no. I was as mesmerized by the idea of living somewhere else with the woman who led me there by the hand.
You seem to understand that technology is changing the way that business is done, social networking sites in particular like Facebook and Twitter. How has this revolution changed the way that you market your business?
I was hesitant at first. I jumped into blogging, then followed that up with Facebook and then Twitter. I realized that I could actually have a conversation with people that I have never met, but that have some idea of me and my company. This was actually pretty exciting. For the most part it has been a very rich and rewarding experience. There was one unfortunate incident, but I won't name that site. If anyone is living in Argentina, or are planning to move down here, you can ask me about what site to stay away from and I will let you know all about it; hint, I wrote about it in my blog. But anyway, even that turned out to be a positive experience because I got to actually meet some people face to face that I would otherwise not have gotten a chance to meet.
I feel even more exposed than ever before. I try to hold back and like most people I would imagine do, but then I can't help myself and my personality just jumps out. I have been told by my own family to reign in the controversial topics and I mostly do, but sometimes I just can't help myself. Since my business started in 2002, it has basically grown along side the virtual social revolution. So basically there has been no change, just growing right along side technology.
We plan on coming down to BA in January or February, would you be willing to let us shadow you for a day and show our audience a day in the life of Frank?
I think that would be a great idea, except that it is the most hectic time of the year for me. Let me run down this week for you as an example.
Monday: Early morning meeting with a potential distributor for our new line of cookies for the Kiosco market. I then get an hour before I have to go to my daughter's parent-teacher conference. After that is over I have some lunch and then try to get all the phone calls I can get to between 3pm and 6pm. I have to call some small independent retailers as well as some large chains. For example, I have to call Jumbo to find out when they will finally buy the new Barbie line of cookies; I have to call Carrefour to find out when they will increase the amount of stock each store can carry of our products to avoid stock outs (stores running out of products), which happens quite frequently. I also have to chase down the buyer at Wal-Mart; coordinate delivery of samples to some clients in the interior of the country and ditto for a couple in other countries, etc.
Tuesday: I have a post grad class I am taking at the Instituto Madero (www.madero.org) that takes up all my morning and I don't get to eat lunch until 2:30pm. Later I go visit a client who has purchased quite a bit of pan dulces and I chase Jumbo to see if I get to meet their buyers from other countries who are visiting—I find out (at 8pm) that yes I do and I get to meet all of them this Thursday! I am also getting the feel for the FDA site that I have to go into to prepare a shipment of samples to the US (huge pain in the ass). Meanwhile, I start receiving some purchase orders of the new Barbie line. I rush home by 6pm and by 8pm I have to meet my family for dinner at a local restaurant. They were out doing stuff of their own this day. Now it's 11pm and I am typing this interview.
That sounds crazy, maybe we'll set something up for summer! Anyways, who is someone, maybe a popular figure in the media who you think would be a good role model for young people looking for someone to look up too?
I am currently fascinated right now with the US political arena. Lots of bad examples to look at, but one that I really like is Rachel Maddow. She is intelligent and will not let people get away with saying anything without being challenged. I think she is an excellent role model. I also really like Ira Glass and his American Life radio show. This is fantastic stuff that often shows the unexpected side of people and reminds me that there is a potential rewarding story in just about anyone and any situation.
Thank you very much for agreeing to talk with us today. The life you live is an inspiration to many of us who are still finding our way to doing what we love. In closing, is there any one piece of valuable advice you would give to a young person who might be confused and trying to find their calling in life?
It's okay to be confused. Everyone goes through that. It may sound like a cliché, but it is true about failing and not knowing what you want, just be prepared to fail. You should look forward to messing up as those are the moments that are the most filled with educational possibilities. You really don't know yourself unless you have failed. That's when you really get to know what you are made-of. So take those clichés and run with them. It's not how you fall, or if you fall (because surely you will), it's how you get up that matters most. Once you get that fear out of the way, hold on to your curiosity for dear life and if you don't have any try and develop some. Always ask questions and try not to assume anything. But also, remember that all these things you are warned about not to do you will do anyway. Just keep them in mind and try to develop habits that will help you. For example, a habit to help you fail would be to try to do things that you know little about. You will most certainly fail, but your curiosity should drive you, your perseverance should help you pick yourself back up and always try to find what you can take away from your failures.