Memories of Colombian fruit and juice stands inspire the restaurant, FRUIT, in Grand Island, Nebraska.
Husband and wife business partners, Diego Leon and Jenny Lopez, recreate vibrant and unique dishes of their homeland.
“We saw the need for healthier food that would please all ages and nationalities; food free of artificial fat, artificial flavors, and especially fresh food prepared on-site,” said Leon. “We have always been passionate about the culinary field, and we pride ourselves in taking extra care in how we process and decorate the fruit.”
FRUIT’s menu offers combinations of fruit, such as mangoes, papayas, bananas, pineapples, kiwis, melons, and berries, as well as juices and extracts of Colombian-grown fruits that are more difficult to find in Nebraska. Catering, and gift items, such as fruit bouquets, strawberries with chocolate, decorations for baby showers, surprise breakfasts, and desserts are also available.
The couple immigrated to the U.S. in 2014, and opened their business in January 2016. Leon owned and operated several businesses in Bogota, Colombia; his experience in graphic design and the food industry aided the couple in opening FRUIT.
Leon says starting their venture was an intensive process, but a labor of love. Market research was his first step, followed by investigating possible competition and the cost of good produce and where to acquire it. They received business training from the University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension office and the Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Program (REAP).
REAP Latino Loan Specialist Griselda Rendon provided counseling through the Women’s Business Center, and REAP provided the couple with a loan. Rendon has helped Leon and Lopez since the beginning of their business-ownership journey.
“Diego and Jenny are dedicated and hard workers,” Rendon said. “They started coming to our Coffee Tables, a monthly training for entrepreneurs in Grand Island, with an idea of someday starting their own business. At the time, they both worked at the packing plant.”
The business owners continue to attend REAP trainings, and Coffee Tables. They have been awarded three loans from REAP to grow the business and allow FRUIT to become their primary source of income.
Through REAP’s financial assistance, the couple has made improvements and upgrades, including moving the business to a location with more customer traffic, creating advertising campaigns and marketing strategies, and increasing menu options. These changes have led to success.
“Our experience with REAP has been pleasant,” said Leon. “Griselda has always been willing to collaborate with us, providing the best of her knowledge and commitment to allow us to grow as a business.”
The couple is also involved with community events, hosting a free Zumba class for children near their restaurant last year.
“People often say it is very difficult to establish a business with all of the specific rules, licenses, and regulations,” Leon said. “To all the entrepreneurs out there wondering if you can do it, we are a voice of encouragement. We can reassure you that it is possible; you can dream, then see your business grow. Even if the road to get there is difficult, it’s never impossible.”
Leon and Lopez consider becoming business owners a wonderful experience.
“It’s been a dream come true,” said Lopez. “It is completely gratifying to see that little by little, step by step, the business is progressing at the rate we hoped it would.”
At a Glance
3404 13 St., Suite 122, Conestoga Mall
Grand Island, NE 68803
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
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