After the 2008 recession affected Corissa Hernandez-Paredes’ teaching career and livelihood, she had to take serious measures to prevent putting her family at further financial risk.

She took it upon herself to learn everything she could about financial literacy in her downtime. Soon, she was juggling two careers: teaching children during the day and teaching adults about financial education by night.

It sparked her interest in entrepreneurship, hoping to fill the gaps in her community and honor her immigrant Mexican family. She opened three craft beer and cocktail locales throughout Los Angeles, including the beloved and recently sunset Boyle Heights bar, House of Xelas.

“Being a first-gen kid taught me about resilience, resourcefulness, and being solution-oriented,” said Hernandez-Paredes in an interview with mitú. “But our culture has taught me everything about community-orientedness, hard work, and the importance of supporting one another.”

Continue reading to learn more about how her career pivoted, what she learned from being an underdog, and how her culture influences her business sense.

It all goes back to Boyle Heights

Hernandez-Paredes’ grandparents and their children relocated to Boyle Heights after leaving Mexico. Once she was brought into the world, Hernandez-Paredes completed her undergraduate studies at Cal Poly Pomona and earned her Master’s degree in education from UCLA. 

From there, Hernandez-Paredes taught in Los Angeles public schools, becoming a financial advisor and advocate. She mentors young professionals, including other first-generation kids and people of color, while serving on boards as a representative for BIPOC small business owners. “I like to say I’m working to be an ‘ambitious amiga to all,'” she said.

Hernandez-Paredes soon realized she could fill the unmet needs in her community and decided to open her own businesses. First came Craft Beer Cellar in Eagle Rock, then Empire Tavern in Burbank; both bars were successes, but she knew she wanted to go in a different direction. 

Boyle Heights called to her, and that’s where she, her husband Gabriel Paredes, and Dominic Saldana opened House of Xelas. As her family’s origin site, it was meaningful for her to open a business in the neighborhood serving Mexican street food and a wide selection of chelas. She also co-owns Highland Park bar and restaurant Nativo with her husband.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by XELAS l BOYLE HEIGHTS (@houseofxelas)

“The immigrant spirit is exactly like the entrepreneurial spirit,” Hernandez-Paredes explains. “It’s about believing in a better tomorrow even when you’re underestimated, underrepresented, and overworked.”

Pushing through hard times

Hernandez-Paredes found it difficult to ask for help while breaking into these industries. She says she’s stumbled a lot, running into every problem entrepreneurs face when starting out. After having no support or mentorship then, she’s become committed to sharing resources with new entrepreneurs.

“Being an underdog is never easy,” Hernandez-Paredes said. “As a woman in male-dominated industries, and a woman of color at that, I’ve seen people underestimate me at every step and stage.”

Additionally, after five years, House of Xelas closed at the end of August due to “differences with their landlord.” They want patrons to know that they plan on reopening in the future, saying in a statement that they will “rise again, stronger and more vibrant than ever before.” 

What Latinas should look for in a business mentor

Through the ups and downs, Hernandez-Paredes receives support from her family and community. For Xelas’ heartfelt send-off, the neighborhood rallied around them, speaking to the impact they’ve had on First Street. 

Building that network is something she recommends to anyone looking to start a business, especially finding a mentor. 

“Look for someone who has years of experience doing what you love and aspire to,” said Hernandez-Paredes. “People were always meant to operate as a village – so find yours.”

She adds that mentorship should include learning about “soft skills” like relationship-building and negotiation and “hard skills” like searching and applying for business grants and networking with investors. 

Lastly, she wants Latina entrepreneurs to know the following: “Whoever you are, wherever you are, I’m cheering you on! You already have what it takes – keep at it.”