Makeover served up to Miami Springs cheesecake bakery

Ever since Milo Irsula, 35, was a child, he and his family dreamed of owning a restaurant. But over the years, life got in the way, and he, his father and two brothers instead ended up living in various corners of the world, including North Carolina and Peru.

“I think for the Irsula family we always thought that our passion for owning a restaurant that specialized in delicious desserts wasn’t ever going to be realized,” said Irsula, who had been a middle-school teacher in North Carolina before his father bought the business. “We called it our ‘pie-in-the-sky dream’ and even joked about it over the years as we moved around the world and started our lives.” emineo media cheesecake, etc miami herald

But the stars aligned for the family in 2012 when Irsula’s father, Orlando, decided to purchase a small, family-owned bakery that had been in business in Miami Springs for more than 40 years.

“My dad saw a great opportunity with this family-owned” business, Irsula said. “It was stable, had solid, long-term contracts and homemade recipes for some terrific cheesecakes and key lime pies. And of course, once my dad bought the business, he got our whole family involved in it right away to help grow it.”

Irsula’s father summoned his sons to Miami six months after purchasing the bakery, and the family went to work, learning as they went along.

“We really didn’t know what we were doing,” Irsula said. “My brother Erick was working in the travel industry in Peru and I was a schoolteacher in North Carolina. But we learned very quickly how difficult it is to be a small-business owner, managing the company, marketing it and doing everything else in between.”

Once my dad bought the business, he got our whole family involved in it right away to help grow it. Milo Irsula, son of Orlando Irsula, who owns Cheesecake, Etc. in Miami Springs

For the next four years, the Irsula family focused on keeping the solid clientele that Cheesecake, Etc. had, finding ways to improve the business and trying out new products. In 2015, the company grossed over $500,000 in sales. In addition to Milo, his brother Erick and father Orlando, the Irsulas employ two full-time staffers who work in production, where Erick runs the show.

In late 2015, when Milo Irsula attended a brand-building workshop held by SCORE— a national nonprofit organization of volunteers who have been successful entrepreneurs and have built thriving businesses — he realized he could get free advice to help him grow the business.

“The workshop, led by SCORE counselor Orlando Espinosa, really inspired me,” Irsula said. “The workshop helped me to understand that although Cheesecakes, Etc. had been in business for 40 years, we would have to spend time creating a solid brand that showcases the quality of our products.”

At the SCORE workshop, Irsula introduced Espinosa to his company and discussed the needs of his business. Soon after, Espinosa worked with the Miami Herald to facilitate a Small Business Makeover.emineo media cheesecake, etc the miami herald makeover

The Irsulas turned to the Miami Herald to help them find efficient ways to promote and grow Cheesecake, Etc. The Herald, in turn, partnered with Miami SCORE. SCORE volunteers use their entrepreneurial skills and offer mentoring services to small business owners free of charge. SCORE identified three counselors to help Cheesecake, Etc. streamline operations, promote the company on social media and find ways to maximize growth opportunities for the business.

The SCORE team included Jane Muir, an attorney at Gersten Muir, a local law firm, specializing in contracts and civil litigation. Rafael Iglesias is a new SCORE counselor who specializes in social media. He was in the world of advertising for 15 years and worked for a local agency. He serves as social media manager for a variety of businesses, including Parawood of the Americas, a provider of Parawood flooring. Doug Shavel is the CEO of Galante Studio Distribution and also runs Shavel Realty, a real estate investment firm.

After working with Cheesecake, Etc. for just over three weeks, the counselors helped the firm understand more about their business and how to run it efficiently. The counselors agreed that after 41 years, the Cheesecake, Etc. brand needed a facelift and some good old-fashioned word-of-mouth via social media to help promote the company and increase sales. To accomplish these goals, the counselors recommended the following:

Dedicate time to managing social media: “In this day and age, if you’re a business owner, you’ve got to have a presence on social media,” Iglesias said. “For Cheesecake, Etc. they need to dedicate time to managing their social media platforms including niche food networks.”

The Irsulas agreed, but according to Milo, none of them had time to spare.

“We have pages set up on social networks,” Irsula said. “But we haven’t posted anything because none of us really have the time to develop the content.”

But Iglesias wasn’t convinced and showed the Irsulas how they can incorporate tools like Hootsuite, a social media management system, into their routine to save time.

“Small-business owners can’t afford not to utilize social media to promote their products,” Iglesias said. “It’s an affordable way to showcase and sell directly to consumers.”

Iglesias recommended that to start out, the company should focus on three social networks for now — Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

In this day and age, if you’re a business owner, you’ve got to have a presence on social media. Rafael Iglesias, social media expert

Iglesias also suggested claiming their company page through Yelp for Business, which allows small business owners to engage with customers with reviews and special promotions.

“Yelp is a hub for consumers who want to inform others about their experiences with businesses and brands,” Iglesias said. “It’s important for Cheesecake, Etc. to take control of their brand, both off and online.”emineo media cheesecake, etc the miami herald

Explore ways to incorporate e-commerce: The SCORE counselors suggested that Cheesecake, Etc. revamp its website to power e-commerce and online sales.

“Cheesecake, Etc. needs to take a look at options in terms of selling its products online,” Shavel said. “It’s an untapped revenue stream that should be quick and easy for the company to set up.”

But the Irsulas had been down that road before with poor results because they couldn’t find a solution for the high cost of shipping.

“We tried to sell online a couple of years back,” Milo Irsula said. “We had issues because it’s really expensive to ship the product, which is frozen. It needs to be shipped in dry ice, and before you know it, you’re asking people to pay $50 for a cheesecake.”

Shavel recommended exploring alternative shipping options including using a co-packer and bringing costs down.

The Irsulas are already hard at work developing new and interesting takes on cheesecake, including introducing flavors such as salted caramel with pecan and another infused with Guinness Stout. The company is also looking at a cheesecake-in-a-cup concept that may prove profitable.

“Outsourcing production to a third party is an option that could lead to a significant savings for the company and increase profitability,” Shavel said.

Streamline operations: Becoming more efficient and finding ways to streamline processes was an area where the company needed help. Shavel offered advice on how reconfiguring their facility would make things run more smoothly.

“Their current space in Miami Springs is adequate, but it needs to be rearranged,” Shavel said. “And right now, they are on a year-to-year lease so renovating wouldn’t be prudent. You would only invest in renovation if you have a 10-year lease for example.”

Muir recommended taking a look at vendor contracts to determine where the company can realize savings or make the contracting process more efficient.

“It’s a good idea to review contracts,” said Muir, who received a Most Productive Young Attorney Award from the Florida Bar in 2015. “This is especially true when a business has been purchased and existing contracts were part of the sale as it was with Cheesecake, Etc.”

Muir recommended looking at terms such as payment times, invoice cycles and liability. She also suggested going over any contract extensions and clauses related to cancellation of the contract.

Develop a new logo: Each of the SCORE counselors advised the company to invest in revamping their decades-old logo.

“We knew that something had to be done with the brand to improve it,” Irsula said. “The idea of creating a new logo that honors the nostalgia of the past came to mind.”

Muir agreed and encouraged the family to develop and trademark their new logo.

“When you create something and it’s out in the public domain, you need to protect it,” Muir said. “It’s important to trademark your brand identity so that you are in control of how it’s used.”

Iglesias recommended using the journey of creating a new brand identity as content to fuel social media feeds.

“It would be great for them to use social media to document the process of creating the new logo and developing a new brand,” Iglesias said. “Solicit ideas from fans and followers and offer treats like a coupon for a free slice of cheesecake. This will improve engagement and improve brand recognition.”

Grow distribution channels: Over the next three to five years, Cheesecake, Etc. wants to grow beyond selling their dessert creations wholesale to bring their products direct to consumers in supermarkets and restaurants around the country.

“We would love to get into grocery stores, cafes and mall kiosks,” Irsula said. “But it’s a competitive market and we weren’t really sure how to get started. Working with SCORE I think we have a better understanding of what it takes.”

Each SCORE counselor committed to continuing their work with the Irsulas and Cheesecake, Etc. to see the advice through.

“He’s got a solid business,” Iglesias said. “He needs to work on spreading the word and innovating for the future.”

The Irsulas are already hard at work developing new and interesting takes on cheesecake, including introducing flavors such as salted caramel with pecan and another infused with Guinness Stout. The company is also looking at a cheesecake-in-a-cup concept that may prove profitable.

“We already sell key lime pie in a cup,” Irsula said. “Cheesecake is the natural evolution of that.”

The Irsulas said they plan to continue the work they started with SCORE and focus on the solutions presented by the counselors as they continue finding ways to expand and innovate.

“That’s the part of the business that I love the most,” Irsula said. “Working with my dad and my brother Erick to create something that hasn’t been done before is a great perk of working in this business.”


Miami Herald Makeover: Alex Electric Services

Alex Electric Services in Hialeah gets Small Business Makeover

A passion for tinkering with electronics as a young boy and a stint in the Marine Corps Reserve as a teen paved the way for Alex Varela to own a small business as an adult. Varela, who was born and raised in Miami Springs, always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but he knew early on that it wasn’t going to be easy to accomplish.

“Being a small business owner really is a 24-hour job. It consumes all of you,” Varela said. “I saw that firsthand growing up when my dad, Emilio, had his own business working as an accountant,” he said. “There were definitely struggles along the way, but my dad worked hard and became successful in his business. He inspired me, and I knew that no matter how hard it was, I wanted to do it, too.”

When he was 19, Varela joined the Marine Corps Reserve and served for six years. During that time, he worked as a technician repairing small missiles. It was an intricate job that required discipline and attention to detail, both of which would serve Varela well on the road to owning a small business. But Varela didn’t jump right into entrepreneurship when he left the Marines. Instead, he started working on construction sites in Miami fixing computer equipment and machines. Varela knew that he loved electronics, but he wasn’t as confident about his skills as an entrepreneur.Miami Herald Makeover Emineo Media Alex Electric

“I needed to see what being an entrepreneur was like,” Varela said. “I wanted to know what running a business would entail and whether it was something I would really like doing before I made the leap to actually owning one.”

Varela wasn’t an employee for long. Just shy of a year of working for someone else, Varela decided to strike out on his own in 1991. He opened Alex Electric Services in Hialeah the same year. The company provides a range of services from repairing consumer products to installing and repairing electrical systems for buildings and homes.

“Back then, I really didn’t know how I was going to grow a business,” Varela said. “But I knew that I was good at what I did and that I was born and raised here.” He took a grassroots approach to getting the word out about his new company. “Early on, we got a lot of referrals through friends and family,” he said.

As a graduate of La Salle High School in Miami, he had quite a few friends in the area who eventually became his repeat customers. The clients at his father’s accounting firm were also good customers.

Business boomed for a long time, according to Varela. But in 2008, at the start of the economic downtown, Alex Electric Services took a hit financially. “It was a rough time,” he said. “But I didn’t want to lay people off.”

So Varela began pouring his own money into the business to keep it afloat. The economy improved, and the business eventually recovered, thanks in part to his decision to expand into commercial and industrial projects.

Today, he has 14 full-time employees and one who works part time. He owns five trucks that electricians take on service calls. And, according to Varela, the business is profitable.

While many small businesses need help with marketing or customer relations, Varela has an entirely different problem: His business can’t run without him.

Varela, who is married and has two children, wanted to be less hands-on with the day-to-day business and spend more time with his family and on increasing sales of commercial accounts. But to do that, he would need to structure a solid management team and streamline existing processes for things like invoicing and record-keeping.

To get help, Varela turned to the Miami Herald for a Small Business Makeover to help him find the best way to achieve his goals. The Herald, in turn, brought in SCORE Miami, a chapter of the national nonprofit organization of retired volunteers who have been successful entrepreneurs and built thriving businesses. SCORE volunteers use their entrepreneurial skills and offer mentoring services to small-business owners for free.

The SCORE team included Rosa Arboleya, owner of Perpetual Message, a Miami-based design studio. Arboleya has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, Web and graphic design. Alvin Hayes is SCORE Miami’s director of development and has built a long career in sales with companies like Robert Half International and the Kelley Law Registry. He recently was chairman of the 2015 SCORE Miami Business Leadership Awards. Raju Mohandas owns BridgePoint Financial Group. For the past decade, he has worked with small-business owners to obtain financing. He helps businesses restructure and obtain working capital. He recently was named SCORE Miami’s volunteer of the year.

After working with Alex Electric Services for about three weeks, the counselors put the company on the road to running efficiently without Varela at the helm day-to-day. The counselors agreed that Varela had to focus on finding ways to get things running more efficiently by identifying staff members who could manage the process. To accomplish these goals, the counselors recommended the following:

▪ Delegate nonessential administrative tasks: “In this business, Mr. Varela is very hands-on,” Hayes said. “He needs to delete some of his nonessential tasks that are administrative in nature. I suggest that he create a list of the things he does in a day and determine what can be delegated to someone else.”

Varela agreed. “I’ve been so involved in the day-to-day running of this business that it’s difficult to transition away from it,” he said. “But I need to do it because I need to be focused on the bigger picture in terms of sales and on quality time with my wife and two great kids.”

“To increase sales, the company needs to focus on developing a solid sales team,” Hayes said. “Mr. Varela can’t do it on his own. He needs to identify the people in the company that can lead by taking on core managerial tasks.”

To further streamline sales-related processes, Hayes recommended that the company create a contract or estimate agreement for both commercial and residential customers. “Because the company services two distinct sectors, there needs to be agreements in place that take into account the specific needs of each type of customer,” Hayes said.

Mohandas agreed. “When you’re looking at how to improve efficiency, it’s important to examine where you are today,” he said. “Mr. Varela has two key goals in mind, but he needs to put the procedures into place to support what he’s trying to do.”

Hayes recommends developing a procedure manual for office staff and electricians. “Every employee should have input into what goes into the manual,” he said. “The company’s staff does the work every day and have valuable insight into what can be done to improve the system.”

Mohandas recommends making improvements to the system for collecting payment from customers. “Right now, residential clients are on the same billing cycle as commercial customers,” he said. “The company needs to collect payment on residential jobs as soon as the work is complete. Otherwise, they’re waiting three to four weeks to collect on residential jobs. The business reported that their average residential sale is around $600.”

Varela noted that he spent a lot of time doing things the old-fashioned way. After working with the SCORE counselors, he recognized that one aspect of the business he could improve right away is the way he collected invoices.

“I have five trucks,” Varela said. “Each truck does about five calls or so per day, which means five invoices to process per truck. We don’t take credit cards out in the field, so my staff is spending time manually producing invoices. Or if a customer wants to use a credit card, the electricians have to call the office to process a transaction over the phone.”

Hayes recommended using a mobile service like Square to process credit-card transactions in the field.

▪ Implement procedures and protocols to improve inventory control: Mohandas recommended that the company take a hard look at its inventory control procedures to reduce loss.

“Right now, Mr. Varela doesn’t know about every item that goes into each one of his five trucks,” Mohandas said. “He needs to review and manage the inventory by standardizing and limiting the inventory that goes into the truck.”

Mohandas also encouraged Varela to stop using debit cards to make purchases while on a job.

“They need to plan ahead of time the possible parts needed before a job is going out to be executed,” Mohandas said. “This would reduce and possible eliminate the use of debit cards for the purchase of parts and equipment. I would recommend getting some job costing software in place to help the company plan purchases ahead of time.”

Mohandas was confident that by making the recommended changes, it would help the company streamline the purchasing process: “Presently he needs to get control of his business so that he can put the people and tools in place to run it instead of the current status where the business is running him.”

▪ Move beyond word-of-mouth marketing: While Alex Electric Services relied primarily on word-of-mouth to drive sales, Arboleya recommended taking the company’s Facebook page — which had just three likes — and concentrating on building a following of existing customers. “It’s not just Facebook,” she said. “Across the board, the company needs to devote time to growing their social-media platforms.”

This is an area where Varela admitted that he has not had much time to explore. “As the SCORE counselors saw from our Facebook page, we weren’t really putting much effort into social media,” Varela said. “That’s another reason why we sought the help of SCORE — to help us find the right direction.”

Arboleya also recommended developing email campaigns for discounts and promotions that are sent to customers using a free service like MailChimp. “It’s free to send to a list of 2,000 names,” she said. “It’s a free way to get your feet wet. You can also segment your contact list into commercial and residential subscribers for more targeted campaigns.”

Arboleya encouraged Varela to create a branded email newsletter. “Ask all clients, vendors and professionals you meet to join your newsletter,” she said. “To grow your business, it is important to always stay top of mind. Structured emails with informative content is a perfect, inexpensive way to do so. Collect as many email addresses as you can and send out at least one email every two to three weeks with helpful and interesting industry content.”

Timing of the newsletter and its content are key. “Scheduling biweekly or monthly emails keeps you in contact with clients and potential new ones,” Arboleya said. “Newsletter content should be 80 percent useful information and 20 percent specials, discounts or services offered.”

Varela said he was committed to taking the SCORE counselors’ advice: “I learned a lot of things through this experience. I was able to work out ways to delegate and shift responsibility to people who I know can lead. I just had to change my overall approach, and the counselors really helped me with that.”

And he’s hopeful about the future. “My wife is a teacher at Coral Gables Elementary,” he said. “And I know that she is looking forward to me turning the reins over to others so that I can spend more time with my family.”

Tasha Cunningham can be reached at

The makeover

The business: Alex Electric Services has been in business for nearly 25 years and is located at 2245 W 10th Court, Hialeah, FL 33010. The company was established in 1991 by Alex Varela. The company specializes in providing electrical services to residents and commercial structures.

The challenge: Finding ways to streamline internal processes so that the company’s owner, Alex Varela, could get out of running the business day-to-day and spend more time with his family.

The experts: Rosi Arboleya is the owner of Perpetual Message, a Miami-based design studio. Alvin Hayes is SCORE Miami’s director of development. Raju Mohandas is the owner of BridgePoint Financial Group. He helps businesses restructure and obtain working capital. He was recently named SCORE Miami’s Volunteer of the Year.

The makeover: In just under three weeks, the SCORE team identified several ways to help the company streamline its processes and run it more efficiently. They worked with the owner, Alex Varela, to implement strategies and restructure the way the company runs.

How to apply for a makeover

Business Monday’s Small Business Makeovers focus on a particular aspect of a business that needs help. Experts in the community will provide the advice. The makeover is open to full-time businesses in Miami-Dade or Broward counties that have been open at least two years. Email your request to and put ‘Makeover’ in the subject line.

Source: The Miami Herald

Writer: Tasha Cunningham

Photo: Hector Gabino


Entrepreneurs and Startups

In order to find success in the world of entrepreneurship and startups, you need to know what it takes to run a successful business. While it might be easy to “start” a business or brand of your own… keeping it afloat and profitable is a whole different story — especially when the market is getting flooded with more entrepreneurs and businesses everyday.

Age of Startup Founders and Entrepreneurs

  • While the common thought is that all startups are teenagers and in their 20s, reports show that the average founding team is aged between 35 and 54 years old. At the same time, the companies with an average age of 35 to 44, have the highest median funding of startup founders.
  • Based on startup founders and their previous titles, 39% were previous CEOs/Founders, while 28% were a mix of various titles outside of upper management, director and manager positions. Based on education, More than 60% of founders had little to no college experience.

Best Cities to Start a Business

  • California, New York and Florida are known as the hot spots of internet and business activity within the U.S. However, the top five locations for actually starting a new business are Austin, Miami, San Jose, Los Angeles and Denver!

Startup Finding and Investors

  • There is a massive amount of money being poured into startups and the numbers only continue to rise.
  • With $17.10 billion in Q2 of 2015, this number is expected to increase to $18 billion by Q3 of 2015.
  • The total amount of venture capital invested in 2015 will surpass $32 billion.
  • There were over 1800 venture capital deals in 2015, which an average of $16.91 million to each of them.
  • Angel investors spend the most of their time and resources on “internet” and “mobile & telecommunications” businesses.
  • California represents 18.2% of all angel investments in 2015.

The success of your startup relies in the pre-planning and actual business model of your startup. If you are still in the pre-planning phases, this startup infographic will also help you on your way.