- October 3, 2021
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Throughout Cumberland County, you can find a variety of cultures that not only add diversity to the community but to businesses, as well.
Some Latino business owners in Fayetteville show pride in their heritage through their businesses.
Vernando “Tito” Simmons-Valenzuela is co-owner of Dirtbag Ales Brewery and Taproom. The brewery has become one of the hubs in the community to host a diverse array of events in the area.
“Part of the reason that we even built such a large space was because a lot of the things that we wanted to do, we couldn’t find anyone who was willing to host or do them the way we wanted to,” he said. “So, we decided we will build it ourselves.”
Simmons-Valenzuela owns the business with business partners Eric Whealton and Jerry Hall.
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From live music performances to drag brunches, Dirtbag Ales has seen its share of events that unite the whole community. It was this year that Simmons was able to host events that celebrated both his Black heritage and his Puerto Rican heritage.
Dirtbag Ales hosted the Juneteenth Festival celebration by Circa 1865 in June and the Chinchorreo Festival, which celebrates Puerto Rican culture, by Boricuas en North Carolina in August.
“I never thought about doing a Puerto Rican festival or anything like that, but when the opportunity arose I was more than happy to take part in it; that goes with pretty much any community-based event,” he said. “I thought it was awesome being that I’m Black and Puerto Rican. Being able to celebrate the Chincherreo (Festival) and do a Juneteenth celebration was just — it was really awesome.”
Gold Standard Auto Work services various parts of the Fayetteville area and owner Paul Torrez, who is of Mexican heritage, made sure to register his business with North Carolina HUBZone as a Hispanic-owned business.
He said: “I use that as tagline as a description of my business; if you were to look at my website or you were to look at my Facebook business page where it talks about the ‘about me’ sections, I very explicitly describe myself as a minority-owned and veteran-owned small business.
“That’s something that I feel is important to highlight because not only am I showing the great work I’m doing but also want people to kind of see me as well.”
Torrez offers auto work services including auto detailing, paint correction and headlight restoration to Fayetteville, Fort Bragg, Hope Mills, Raeford, Spring Lake, Sanford and Cameron.
With an education background in criminal justice and a military background in communications, Torrez chose to follow his passion after spending his childhood working on cars with his dad for fun.
“I was always the guy helping him in the garage work on cars, fix cars, and clean up cars, that sort of thing,” he said. “So, I’ve kind of been around the automobile thing basically my whole life. Even into college, that was something that my friends used to do on a Saturday; we would go into the carwash and spend half the day washing cars and just catching up with one another.”
In downtown Fayetteville, it is beautiful colors that guide Karroll Echeverri’s business, Meraki Creative Agency, a party supply and rental shop.
“With anything that we do within the shop, we try to invoke joy,” she said. “That’s what we do. … everything has to be in abundance.”
Echeverri co-owns Meraki Creative Agency with Brittany Cobb.
Echeverri, originally from Colombia, describes it as being one of the happiest countries, stemming from the music and how colorful it is, much like her business is covered in colorful party decor.
“It’s a very colorful country, which kind of takes me back to why I guess I’d be drawn by everything that has to do with color,” she said.
She said she always gets asked where she’s from after people hear her accent, and she feels it is significant to share her culture.
“To this day it’s interesting because I haven’t heard anything bad, like somebody doesn’t have anything bad to say about a Colombian,” she said. “It’s always some sort of connection somewhere.”
Puerto Rican barber Joel Cotto has lived in the Fayetteville area since he was 4. He said he started cutting his hair when he was young because his family couldn’t always afford to pay to get him a haircut. Now 30, he has been cutting for about 13 years.
Cotto is the owner of Luxurius Coiffure, a barbershop. He has also competed in multiple barber competitions, which has earned him 17 trophies.
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Cotta said his cultural background has helped him best serve his clientele.
“I feel like being Puerto Rican, being from my island, I feel like creativity is a key to style hair and making sure it fits that persons’ charisma,” he said. “When somebody walks in, you want to fit their aura.
”Being able to be bilingual and helping out more people in the community and actually having a way of styling hair and basically making it picture-perfect, I feel like it helped a lot of the community.”
Cotto said he finds it important to give back to the community.
“I want to be able to help the community out more than normal,” he said. “I feel like a lot of barbershops, a lot of hair salons, a lot of people that do work with clients should give back to their community because first of all, that’s what pays our bills and second of all, that’s what makes us grow.”
Staff writer Akira Kyles can be reached at email@example.com.
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