Announcing the 2023 AL DÍA Top Entrepreneur honorees
The AL DÍA Top Entrepreneurs event celebrates some of the region's most successful entrepreneurial leaders, and will take place Friday, Feb. 24.
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AL DÍA’s first event of 2023 — AL DÍA Top Entrepreneurs — is just over a month away, and the company is excited to announce its six winners.
Launched in 2021, the AL DÍA Top Entrepreneurs Forum & Reception event is a celebration of entrepreneurial leaders who are building and sustaining successful, dynamic businesses across the Philadelphia region.
The aim of the event is to recognize the go-getter mentality, as well as the endurance that is embodied within our region. As entrepreneurs and their businesses improve the quality of life of our communities, the AL DÍA Top Entrepreneurs event shines a light on the stories of some of the most inspiring and successful business owners our region has to offer.
This year, the honorees will be selected from six categories:
- Top Restaurateur: goes to a sole proprietor leader within the restaurant industry who not only thrived through unprecedented times in an industry that most struggle to succeed, but whose business expanded and continues to grow.
- Business Innovation: goes to an entrepreneur with intuition; who knew what they loved to do in this world and had the fire to light the way in capitalizing from their passions.
- Partnership Award: goes to a duo of entrepreneurs who had the vision, grit and resilience to build and grow their businesses with mutual respect in order to prosper.
- Changemaker Award: goes to an entrepreneur who brings together their entrepreneurial venture while exploring a space where our communities are often not represented, effectively recognizing an opportunity and bringing forth a vision to provide a solution with their added twist to it.
- Brick and Mortar Award: goes to an entrepreneur who helps the world go round as they bring ease through the essential services they provide for their communities.
- Pioneer Award: goes to an entrepreneur who is an inspirational leader that have carved their own path and are paving the way for future generations to follow as they knock down societal barriers to building their businesses.
After going through a competitive nomination process, the advisory board has made the selection for this year’s honorees.
Here are the 2023 AL DÍA Top Entrepreneurs:
TOP RESTAURATEUR: Sofia Deleon, Chef & Owner of El Merkury
El Merkury was born in 2017. It was a concept that began as a series of pop ups, catering services, and a virtual restaurant. Then, on May 5, 2018, Sofia Deleon fulfilled her longtime dream, launching her first brick and mortar operation. El Merkury is a fast-casual Central American street food and churro bar.
It was at the age of 12 — in her native town in Guatemala — that Deleon's journey into food entrepreneurship began. Her brother gifted her an ice cream machine. Rather quickly thereafter, she saw that there was a void in ice cream options within the Guatemalan market and Deleon decided to offer her homemade ice cream treats at school. From there, her ice cream business grew into a small catering company for family and friends.
At the age of 17, she decided to leave home and migrated to Michigan, where she received a scholarship to pursue a degree in Food Industry Management from Michigan State University. Congruently, she worked in different marketing and management roles for food companies in San Diego, Miami, and West Chester, PA. She ultimately landed in Philadelphia as she pursued an MBA in Food Marketing from St. Joseph's University.
Initially, her idea was to move to an executive role in the corporate food industry and open a restaurant later in life. However, as the political landscape was changing, prompting a wave of increased negativity around immigrants and Latin America, Deleon felt it was the right time to quit her job, follow her passion and try to make a difference.
She has been able to do just that — shining a positive light on underrepresented countries like Guatemala, and others like El Salvador and Honduras — through cuisine.
In 2021, after surviving the pandemic, Deleon opened the second El Merkury location at Reading Terminal Market.
BUSINESS INNOVATION: Hector Nuñez, Founder & President of Wooder Ice, “Your Scoop on Everything Philly”
Hector Nuñez began his journey into entrepreneurship in 2014, when he saw that there was a need for a platform that not only showcased the great things this city has to offer, but also a way to help amplify the voices of the local small businesses and entrepreneurs.
He launched Wooder Ice at a time when Instagram was still in its infancy, and the term “influencer” had not just been coined. However, he was an influencer back then, blazing a trail and shining a light on the who, what and where of Philly.
Nuñez's foray into entrepreneurship came after graduating from Temple University, where he ended up in several roles that helped develop the skills needed to launch his own business.
This included positions such as public relations associate and project management for marketing and SEO agencies, which helped equip him with the proper tools.
Many of the businesses Wooder Ice has helped promote since its launch didn’t have the means or budgets for traditional advertising, so those entrepreneurs leaned on the platform to help get the word out on their events, services, and products. As a result, it helped many get notable clients, from Roc Nation, Forbes, Motown Records, Revolt, and many others.
In addition to Nuñez, the Wooder Ice team also consists of Ja-mel Vereen, Lauren Linder, and Farah Farag, who have helped the brand expand to other verticals, including content creation, podcasting, event consulting, and an apparel line.
PARTNERSHIP AWARD: Alma Romero & Marcos Tlacopilco, Owners of Marcos' Fish Market & Alma del Mar.
Alma Romero and Marcos Tlacopilco both epitomize the American Dream. Both arrived to Philadelphia in 1998, with the odds stacked against them. They overcame multiple obstacles in the process of going from working at a fish market to eventually going into business for themselves as the owners of Marcos’ Fish Market & Alma del Mar.
The former is a family-owned and operated seafood restaurant located in the Italian Market, while the latter has established itself as a space that celebrates delicious Mexican cuisine with a modern twist that serves as a space to bring the community together and share music, culture and joy.
Since opening the doors to their businesses, both Marcos' Fish Market & Alma del Mar has helped create multiple jobs that contribute to the overall economic development of Philadelphia.
Romero and Tlacopilco have also established themselves as community leaders and tireless advocates for the advancement of the Latinx community, displaying hard work, resilience, and inspiration for the immigrant community.
CHANGEMAKER AWARD: Mazzie Casher, Co-founder of the Philly Truce Foundation
Mazzie Casher is a professional creator, and the mastermind behind the Philly Truce App, an app that attempts to contact nearby mediators in the community to resolve conflicts that could lead to gun violence.
On this front, he has established himself as a leader in the city when it comes to combating gun violence. He recognized that there was a program, along with his good friend Steven Pickens, and decided that “it was [their] time to be leaders.”
The app allows for children to turn to it when confronted with a difficult situation, as opposed to turning to violence. Beyond this, it has also helped combat the “snitch mentality” that has consistently fueled further violence and, ultimately, fear.
A long-time creative mind, Casher's journey into creative expression began in 1998 as a recording artist.
BRICK AND MORTAR AWARD: Neydary Zambrano, President of Magic Memories
Neydary Zambrano is originally from Venezuela, and came to the United States with no money or resources about 25 years ago. Since her arrival, she has been able to pay for her master’s degree in education, while working in nonprofits and learning how to build a business.
Roughly a decade ago, Zambrano bought her first Early Development Center, which later became the property of “Magic Memories.” As a new owner, she dedicated time to learn about early education and effective ways to build and strengthen the center operations. After 7 years, she bought eight additional centers.
“Magic Memories” was established to provide young children with a loving, caring, and stimulating environment. It provides a safe, healthy surrounding, well-balanced meals, and a concern staff dedicated to creating a warm, trusting, home-like setting. The overall mission is to provide the emotional security, self-esteem and social development of the children in their care, with a strong value system of respect, courtesy and love for one another.
Today, Zambrano owns nine early learning centers in Chester and Montgomery countries. Currently, her business provides employment to over 200 employees and has provided early education opportunities and a safe space to hundreds of children in the area.
PIONEER AWARD: Richard Olaya, Architect & Principal at O Z Collaborative
Richard Olaya has spent nearly three decades in practice, working in the architecture field.
His several years of experience includes practice on a wide array of project types, which include museums, religious building, universities, and high-rise commercial and multi-family buildings.
Originally from Bogota, Colombia, he came to the United States, where he built his own architecture firm right out of his home, which has since grown to what is now O Z Collaborative. Olaya's multicultural background provides clients with a unique cosmopolitan perspective.
In addition to his architectural work, Olaya is also an active member in his community, contributing his time to various arts and cultural organizations in Philadelphia, while keeping his Colombian background alive through both his professional work and hobbies.
The 2023 AL DÍA Top Entrepreneurs Forum & Reception will take place Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, at the Pyramid Club from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. To learn more information or secure your ticket, click here.
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