Long before his restaurant, Pikalo, became a reality, Jose Pimentel showed up every day at a local park in the Dominican Republic with his cart full of fresh empanadas—savory handmade pastries, often with different fillings—that he adored and enjoyed selling. Then fifteen-year-old Pimentel studied his mother's beloved recipe to share it with others, with a dream of one day starting his own small business.
Years later, Pimentel immigrated to Boston, where he continued to sell his empanadas, this time going door to door to local businesses in Jamaica Plain and other Boston neighborhoods. He solidified his passion for making authentic food as an award-winning chef at Legal Sea Foods and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
After four years as a chef, Pimentel decided he was ready for the next step—to start his own restaurant specializing in his beloved empanadas. Because Lawrence, Massachusetts, boasted a sizable Dominican population, Pimentel opened the doors to his new restaurant, Pikalo, in a community that he believed would provide a solid customer base and appreciation for his fresh empanada concept. It was challenging in the beginning: Pimentel worked every day with his wife, Elsa Martinez, and his mother to get the business off the ground.
Partnering for the Future
Starting a brick-and-mortar business was a big step, and at the beginning, Pimentel was relying upon a small line of credit and friends who were willing to invest to help him achieve his dream. He knew a different level of financial support was necessary to run a sustainable business. He chose Eastern Bank for its community values and focus on helping small businesses thrive. Eastern helped him purchase the building in Lawrence with loan assistance and expert financial advice, and the collaboration has continued ever since.
"Eastern and its people have shown me again and again that it values the communities I serve and the business I've built," said Pimentel, who continues to work with Eastern as a real estate lender and for depositor services. "They are trustworthy and responsive and always give me the advice and information I need to make smart choices for my business."
After opening in Lawrence in 2012, the business thrived. Pikalo opened a Jamaica Plain location in 2015, and then an East Boston location in 2019. The chain is still growing and now boasts soon-to-be seven locations and more than 70 employees.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Pimentel stayed the course—in fact, his business increased by 40 percent, he said. The restaurant remained open as Pimentel pivoted its focus on increased marketing and online takeout orders. The team at Eastern determined he was a good candidate for the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and brought the loan application and forgiveness process to his attention.
To keep up with growing takeout demand, Pimentel successfully applied for a PPP loan with his Eastern banking team walking him through every step of the process. He used his PPP loan to improve the restaurant's point-of-sale system, increase its phone lines, purchase digital devices for managing orders, and hire more delivery employees.
Pimentel said Eastern’s relationship team takes the time to get to know his goals for his business, empowering him to thoughtfully consider his future plans and ask questions along the way. Bankers help him understand the financial programs he is eligible for, as well as their pros and cons. Even more important, though, is his trust in Eastern's partnership with him. He knows Eastern has his best interests in mind and doesn't see him as just another small business owner.
"Eastern wants to look at how they can help you rather than saying no," he said. "If more banks worked this way, we would be a very different country and community."
From Small Business To Growing Chain: What's Next for Pikalo?
Pimentel's business continues to grow, and Eastern continues to be a partner in its expansion. Ultimately, Pimentel would like to grow his business beyond Massachusetts into neighboring Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine. In addition, he is currently looking for a location to house a headquarters and larger space for creating, storing and distributing his products. He appreciates the open discussions with his Eastern relationship banker about his plans, and a focus on expanding at the right times while keeping overhead low.
No matter what comes next, Pimentel wants to share his love for empanadas and bring communities together as interest in the food grows.
"Making the freshest empanadas and sharing them with local communities who love them as much as I do has been my lifelong dream," Pimentel said. "It feels good to have partners like Eastern who know my business and support me."
Pimentel's passion for his business (and for making the best empanadas in the region), paired with Eastern's commitment to small business owners and local economic growth, demonstrate that entrepreneurial success is possible, no matter how humble the beginnings.
Learn more about how Eastern Bank's cash management solutions can help you grow your small business.