035: Pilar Guzman Zavala (Half Moon Empanadas)

Pilar Guzman Zavala on Innovation City

“What does ‘success’ mean? If you wake up and you feel happy about what you’re doing in your life; that’s success. That’s how I define it. And I feel happy about what I’m doing.” — Pilar Guzman Zavala

Welcome to Innovation City—powered by Venture Cafe—where Tyler Kelley and Michael Johnson, Co-Founders of SLAM! Agency, interview innovators, creators, and disruptors to discover how business is changing in the modern world.

Created and produced by SLAM! Agency in conjunction with Venture Cafe St. Louis and Venture Cafe Miami, Innovation City gives you an inside look at how rapidly business and culture are changing thanks to increasing diversity and inclusion, heightened creativity, and a stronger and better-connected business community.

Today’s guest is Pilar Guzman Zavala, CEO at Half Moon Empanadas. Half Moon Empanadas is a serious innovator in the food space, offering 20+ flavors of Argentinian empanadas, and leading the charge to create a whole new food category in the national fast-casual market. Pilar is also a mentor at WINlab Miami, FIU Startup Food Lab, a board member at Venture Cafe Miami, and a Fellow at The Miami Foundation. Find Pilar on Instagram at @guzman_pilar, on Twitter at @pilarguzman, and find Half Moon on Instagram @halfmoonempanadas.

They discuss:

  • Half Moon Empanadas’ signaturing branding, which goes right on the shell of the empanada
  • The importance of being part of the community where you live and helping others
  • Pilar’s entrepreneurial story; the struggles and the triumphs
  • The 10 year history behind opening 10 locations and selling 600,000 empanadas per year
  • Nearly going bankrupt
  • Going into survival mode
  • Fighting through the tough times made Pilar passionate about giving back
  • Sharing her hard earned wisdom through mentoring
  • Struggling for the first 5-7 years
  • The competitive mindset you need to succeed as an entrepreneur
  • Following the light at the end of the tunnel that she discovered through booming sales at festivals
  • The aha moment of a food cart in the middle of nowhere on a college campus
  • Selling 15x as much from that cart as the previous vendor
  • Submitting their first RFP to be an airport vendor
  • Being the #1 best seller per square foot in the entire airport
  • Winning 2016 Best Concession, Overall for Miami Airport, beating out bigger chains like Starbucks and Einstein Bagels
  • Pilar’s husband’s emotional connection to his youth in Argentina through empanadas
  • Her husband spent two years studying everything they would need to know about empanadas and the food business before launching
  • Pilar, as a people person, being better suited to management than her husband
  • Moving from grant foundations to business
  • Working at the World Bank, the Government of Mexico, The Knight Foundation
  • Finding a new place where she could make a difference
  • Raising people up
  • Hiring women: women are 70% of Half Moon’s workforce
  • The differences between Argentinian empanadas, Mexican, and Venezuelan styles
  • Offering Americanized flavors of empanadas
  • Working completely from scratch
  • Pilar’s vision for the future of Half Moon; being a national name, and in every airport in the country
  • Another company Pilar is working on, Alma Mia, which creates jewelry and empowers women
  • Attending the Harvard Business School’s Young American Leaders Program
  • The struggle of being a mother and an entrepreneur, the need to share her story to help other women who feel isolated by the struggle
  • The difficulty of acknowledging and accepting your own success
  • The loneliness of being an entrepreneur
  • Working with the Knight Foundation on entrepreneurship
  • The importance of incubators, because they can help entrepreneurs answer the critical business questions that lead to strong growth
  • Providing a platform for other small businesses in Miami