Vivi and Ro Llama
Science Wellness Arts NYC Family About
“Qoya” means Queen in Quechua,  the native language of the indigenous peoples of Peru.

Last week I visited Vanessa Ponce at her ghost kitchen, Qoyas, in Midtown Manhattan. She shared with me her journey from Peru to New York City and how she quickly became a leading food figure during Covid-19. She managed to open a restaurant, start a catering service and delivery service all while thriving through the pandemic.

Rocio: What led to the creation of your partnership at Qoyas NYC?
My mother, Alicia, and I have been wanting to open a food business in NYC for a while, but we couldn’t find the right chef partner. We always dreamt about how amazing it would be if my sister moved to NYC, as she is a chef and she has a lot of experience in the food & beverage industry through her event & catering companies.

Then one day, my sister went through a big transition in her life and decided to move to NYC. Since we are three entrepreneurial women, the first thing we did was to sit down and talk business.  After hours of brainstorming and decision making, we decided that we wanted to bring our talents together: my mom the person in charge of the administrative and finance side, Magaly the executive chef and mastermind behind all the food aspects, myself, Vanessa in charge of marketing and business development. This is how in the beginning of 2019 we founded QOYAS, a concept that will have the focus of paying a tribute to traditional Peruvian food, to narrate stories, and the history behind Peruvian gastronomy, which is unique, diverse and flavorful. We picked a name in Quechua, it means Queens, because our mom has always been proud of her Andean roots and she passed down to us. We wanted a name that represents our background, culture and heritage. At first our business was focused in catering, private chef and cooking classes. Then we transitioned into being food vendors at Queens Night Market and hosted several pop-ups. When the pandemic hit several of our plans were put at halt, as well as, our businesses in Peru. We didn’t know what we were going to do, until my sister started selling alfajores with her daughter Luna and became a delivery girl. She saw the high demand for delivery orders coming from several restaurants. A friend of mine told me about the ghost kitchen concept, and that’s when it hit all at once, the three of us sat down again and decided we were going to open the first Peruvian ghost kitchen in NYC, led by a family of three immigrant women.

Rocio: What entrepreneurial skills did you use to accomplish your goals with this project?
My mother and father were raised in an entrepreneurial household. Since we were kids, my sister, brother and I, learned about what being an entrepreneur meant. Yes, you have all the flexibility of time and you are “your own boss” but with that commodity comes a lot of responsibility, commitment, drive and passion. Now with Qoyas we have learned to delegate, to trust and respect each other’s work, the importance of multitasking and to wear many hats when you are running your own business. We also learned to create our elevator pitch and to always share our motto and story, which is what makes us connect with our customers. Teamwork is everything, and although we individually are in charge of our own areas, we come together to draw strategies and create best customer experience practices. In the restaurant world, we have also learned that critical thinking and solution solving is prime, being that it is such a fast paced and very demanding industry.

Picture of the family behind the success of Qoyas

Rocio: What is the concept of a Ghost Kitchen?  Do you have any memorable success stories related to your business?

Vanessa: The ghost kitchen concept has been very popular in the west coast of the USA for a while. It’s now gaining popularity in the East Coast, and with the pandemic many restaurateurs and chefs ventured in opening their ghost kitchens. A friend of mine told me about the concept and recommended us to look into it, and we did. A ghost kitchen is basically a restaurant that is in a hidden location, your restaurant is virtual and you can offer your food through your website and delivery partner apps, such as, Ubereats, Doordash, Seamless, Grubhub, Chow Now, etc. Ghost kitchens operate under the same model as a restaurant and with all the required licenses and permits, the only difference is that we don’t host dine in. In our particular case, we offer delivery and pick-up, so our location is not so secret. We were able to find a great partner, a hotel in the heart of Midtown that we rent the kitchen space from.

I can say that our story of success is primarily the fact that we are a business up and running. We opened our ghost kitchen in the midst of the pandemic. After 1 week of being open, we had to shut down because we got sick from Covid. It was scary and disappointing, all the money we put in and we couldn’t do anything because we were sick. After 3 weeks, we were able to reopen but our host kitchen couldn’t have us anymore. We had to look for another kitchen, which meant to close again. Although we wanted to give up, there was a light of hope that things were going to get better. And so, they did, we found a bigger kitchen, and many amazing opportunities came. We had a new home for our ghost kitchen, and we were able to create new avenues of business. We started offering our food to hotels in the area that don’t have a food and beverage department. We have already signed one contract with a hotel in midtown, working on a couple of more. Our ghost kitchen has 5 star reviews on all platforms, we are thriving!

Rocio: What advice do you have for other Latina women looking to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams?

Vanessa: Don’t give up, when things get rough, stay strong and have a love of faith in the fact that things unfold the way they are meant to.

Believe in yourself, you have to believe in your power and greatness.

Be disciplined, stay focused, committed and responsible.

Find your purpose and passion, and make money out of it!

Thank you Vanessa for your time and generosity! Please be sure to order from Qoyas here.