Emilio Cano and Giselle Barrero: partners in life and business

Emilio Cano and Giselle Barrero: partners in life and business
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by Carla Damasceno Ferreira

This Mexican couple have reinvented themselves since arriving in Australia.

Bringing the flavours, colours and the best of the exquisite Mexican cuisine to Australian tables, they are the creators of Ranchero Salsa – a chilli sauce brand.  

The idea began in 2012 with just $300 in hand. Fast forward to today, and these entrepreneurs are meeting increasing demand for their home-made sauce recipes. Bottles of authentic Mexican salsa are being shelved in 2,000 stores across Australia, including the major supermarket chains.

Emilio and Giselle tell us how their enthusiasm, initiative and hard work embarked them on a path to entrepreneurial success.

Ranchero’s founders Emilio Cano and Giselle Barrero were born in Mexico City.  Emilio, a MBA graduate from the Universidad de Anahuac (one of the best universities in Latin America) was an established entrepreneur, operating an import car accessories company. Then the effects of the global financial crisis of 2008 were felt. Emilio closed his business and decided to look to other countries to find opportunities with his wife Giselle, who had been working in Mexico City as a hospital administrator.

“We had thought about moving to the USA, but then realised this was where the epicentre of the financial crisis was. We ended up choosing Australia, because we saw it as a very friendly country opened to migration, and we chose Melbourne because it was the sports and cultural capital of Australia” tells Emilio.

“My wife always had a passion for cooking her family recipes for our friends. When we arrived in Melbourne, she started to work in a Mexican restaurant called Baha Tacos. Meanwhile, I started working in a Telecommunications company”, recalls Emilio.

“I always wished that I would become a chef using my family recipes. These have been passed down to me through many generations. My grandmother taught me with the same passion as it was taught to her” says Giselle.

“We settled in Australia with a student visa. My English wasn’t strong, so i began studying a course to prepare for the IELTS exam. After a month of being in Melbourne, I saw an ad in a newspaper for a chef for Baha Tacos. They were in search of a more authentic Mexican food experience. I applied for this job and as a result, I was employed to lead their kitchen for a year and a half. I enjoyed every second of that experience”, she adds.

This opportunity was the start to a new destiny. Soon after, the restaurant owners asked to sponsor Giselle to continue her work with the Baha Tacos restaurant. Completing her IELTS course and achieving good results, Gisele moved forward and applied for a Permanent Resident Visa, which she obtained in June 2013.

Mexican culture is all about sharing. And the more Giselle shared her meals with local friends, the more she was given great feedback. “They constantly were suggesting to us that we should open a restaurant, but this would of required a lot of financial investment”, tells Giselle.

This idea to profit from her greatest talent was beginning to take shape, encouraged by her husbands entrepreneurial mind.

They started a homemade production of their variety of chilli sauce flavours – jalapeño, chipotle, caliente and habanero to sell at artisan markets.  The couple would work on their product when they weren’t at their day jobs. It didn’t take long before the business took off in a positive way, it soon became so successful that they were able to leave their day jobs to solely invest their time in their own brand, Ranchero Salsa.

Based entirely from family recipes, these sauces and are made from fresh local Australian ingredients. The mix of authentic recipes with local ingredients has distinguished their products from other products they share a shelf with.

“The perfect opportunity to launch our products happened in 2012 at a Mexican Independence Day festival in Melbourne, celebrated every September 16. We had decided to invest only $300 to our product for this event. With this budget I bought the bottles, ingredients and printed the labels, designed in Power Point at Officeworks. The result was great. In one day, our stand profited $1,500,” tells Emilio.

“After this experience, we began to sell the sauces at the Prahran Market, a very trendy Melbourne food market. This exposure led to nine customers from within the food market, as well as local delicatessens and supermarkets from Melbourne”, says Emilio.

Emilio has always been driven by his goals, and his vision that they would one day have a huge business.

“In the beginning, I acted as if Ranchero was already a big company, based on professionalism and concepts of quality. I was responsible for the labelling, sales and marketing, while Giselle selected the best ingredients and cooked. From the initial nine customers we jumped to 65 after six months. Then the sauces started to be sold in 165 stores; 65 in Melbourne and 100 Coles’ supermarket stores spread around Australia.”

The couple ended up moving to Sydney, where they still live, following the success of another visionary initiative from Emilio. In 2014, he decided to apply for the TV show ‘Shark Tank’, a reality TV competition series, where aspiring entrepreneur-contestants pitch their business to a panel of investors (the “sharks”). Each shark had a different background and experience in different industries. Basically, the contestants were expected to sell their ideas to five self-made millionaires – asking for investment in their businesses. Giselle and Emilio were successful in their pitch, obtaining an investment of $80,000 from John McGrath, CEO to one of Australia’s leading Real Estate brands.

“As John’s company is based in Sydney, we then realised it was the best decision to move to Sydney. John is wise and a true mentor and is our business partner still to this day. When I decided to apply for Shark Tank, I told my wife that this type of publicity on TV would only benefit our company, even if we were to lose”, explains Emilio.

After the successful experience of Shark Tank, Ranchero’s sauces sales grew exceptionally, which as a testament to the brilliant exposure. The sauces are now being sold in 2,000 stores across Australia. To give a better idea of the boost, a year ago, before being part of the show, the couple were producing around 20,000 bottles of sauce a year. Three months after the show, their production peaked to 20,000 bottles per month.

So what does the future hold? The couple plan to diversify its Ranchero products with two types of authentic Mexican corn chips. Giselle attributes the good reception of the public to their brand and its strong brand values of quality and authenticity. “Chilies have been sold in Mexican markets for thousands of years. Except for the imported chilli from Mexico, we endorse the concept of buying locally. So, our Mexican recipes are made with Australian fresh ingredients. We created our brand without opting for the easy way of importing and we don’t use preservatives – other long shelf life products on supermarkets don’t offer the same quality. I only use glass bottles, although more expensive are cleaner for packaging”, reveals Giselle.

For those who wish to prosper in business, Emilio shares his recipe. “It is important to have the right mind set. Every entrepreneur, will have at least one moment, where they realise they are the only one who believes in their vision. You are alone – and if you don’t believe in you, than nobody will believe in you. Never stop believing in your dreams.”

Emilio goes on to share a metaphor that he feels resonates greatly with the couples business efforts as immigrants in Australia.  “Why has Superman always been so popular in the USA? Because of the pop culture mythology where Superman is a personification of an ‘immigrant’, an ‘alien’ from another planet, that has superpowers. I didn’t realise I had superpowers in Mexico, but in Australia, I see that nobody knows Mexican food like I do. And this is my power”.