Marimar Vélez, 31, is among the few minority women who own and operate a McDonald’s franchise in Central Florida.
“My employees literally want me off the floor because they think if I’m on the floor working, they’re doing something wrong -- I love the fry station. That’s my station,” Vélez, a native of Puerto Rico said.
She grew up watching her parents work in the fast-food industry and found a passion for it. Although the journey hasn’t been easy to trek.
“It’s been a fun ride, but I think as a woman you have to fight a little harder to get a seat on the table than usually a man does ... but I think once you’re there and you’re able to prove your worth and see that we just basically give the same or more when it comes to that,” Vélez said. “I think that women are so multi-faceted, and we forget that. We’re excellent multi-taskers.”
It was her hands-on approach and hustler mindset what Tony Hernández, the founder of the Immigrant Archive Project, said needed to be shared and documented.
“One of the things that caught my attention early on was how she scouted a lot of the competition and said, ‘OK, I’m going to find the best women managers out there; women that I know I can learn from,’” Hernández said. “I realized that this was important for us to tell our story in our own words and at the same time it was valuable information for nonimmigrants.”
He founded IAP in 2008 and since then the nonprofit has documented over 1,000 stories of success from immigrants.
“You know the story of leaving everything behind and coming to the U.S. with a burning desire to pull your family up by the bootstraps is the story of America,” Hernández said.
Vélez left Puerto Rico with her family in 2004 in search of better opportunities.
“We’re seeing more and more women every day in major leadership roles. And women are no longer accepting sort of that glass ceiling to hold them back,” Hernández said.
According to the Orlando Regional Chamber, in 2017, there were 10,242 fully women-owned businesses in Orlando which made up 20% of total businesses.
“That is increasing and we’re seeing that grow,” Jo Newell, the VP of Orlando Regional Chamber, said of women-owned businesses in the area.
And to help with that change, the Orlando Regional Chamber developed the All Women Empowered program to provide resources for women in the business world.
“We’re really building a resource web page and community for women to have the resources that they need to propel them forward,” Newell said. “It is important to point out that Orlando is on par with other communities in the U.S. when we look at women in leadership roles, but we know that on par that’s just average--we need to do better.”
For Vélez, it’s also important to be part of that change.
“I ended up with a team of 5 women coincidentally not that I was just thinking women, but I think I’m naturally attracted to wanting to see Latinas just surpass but the team we have now were not nowhere near where they were and we took a chance,” Vélez said. “They started as shift managers and now they’re GMs, and director of operations and it’s a blessing because they’re just as thankful to you as you are to them and the growth has been mutual.”
And she strives to do better by uplifting those women around her.
“Once we focus together as women and building each other up rather than tearing each other down and knowing that together we do more than if we are apart,” she said. “Then, we start realizing that our power is not just within us but the community of women who want to be entrepreneurs who want to grow in their careers.”