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Bringing Venezuela to Ottawa through Chicha

May 10, 2024

1055 words | 5 mins.
By: Randy Gaudreau

During the hot summers of Venezuela, it’s not uncommon to see a Chichero drawing a crowd.

Often dressed in white robes, these iconic mobile vendors take to the busy city centres with their carts to dish out a sweet, cool, and creamy rice-based milkshake-like treat served over crushed ice known as Chicha Criolla—or Chicha—to locals seeking a break from the tropical heat.

As common as these vendors may be in Venezuela, Chicha is a little less common in the marketplaces around Ottawa. But after the positive response L. Fernando González had selling his vegan version of the treat part-time last summer, and thanks to strong advice from Invest Ottawa business advisors, you might be seeing a bit more of it at Ottawa’s outdoor markets this year.

Sharing Venezuelan culture through Chicha Vegan Milkshakes

A cup of chicha - topped with cinnamon - the logo of the company is added to the front of the cup.

Although González has been in Canada for the past 25 years, he’s originally from Venezuela and beams with pride as he talks about sharing his cultural background with others.

This love for Venezuelan culture and traditions inspired him to write his book Criollo: A Taste of Venezuela, as a collection of home and street recipes and Venezuelan folk stories.

In the book, González included his recipe for Chicha, after getting positive feedback from those who tried his recipe, it wasn’t long before González had visions of bringing the traditions and flavours of Chicha to Ottawa.

A self-described “big fan of artisan farmers markets,” González thought it “would be fun” to have a Chicha cart at Lansdowne Farmers Market. After getting visions of becoming an Ottawa-based Chichero, he started researching where he’d be able to find the right cart for the job.

Apparently, his online research sparked a fascination with the traditional mobile Chicha cart that eventually led to his entrepreneurial venture.

“I was so enamoured with the cart, that I started thinking about the business,” he explained. “And that was really the spark for the whole thing.”

An image of the Chicha cart - which is a light blue teal colour - and has an umbrella on the top.

Beauty in simplicity

González said the cart and the business model was the perfect way for him to finally realize his entrepreneurial dreams without sacrificing his career in software development.

“I thought about it as a glorified lemonade stand, he said.”

“I figured having a mobile milkshake cart would be one of the simplest paths for me to learn about building a business. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I liked the idea of low startup costs, not having to own a brick-and-mortar store being able to do it part-time while maintaining my day job, and seasonally so I could still pursue other interests.”

As simple as it seemed to start up a milkshake cart of sorts, there were still many factors that González needed to consider before launching.

“I knew I wanted whatever business I ran to be aligned with my ethics and minimize any damage to the environment or living beings,” he said.  “So, I decided to make the product vegan, use compostable cups, and pay our employees a generous wage.”

From idea to reality – a little help from business advisors

To get help getting his idea off the ground, González turned to an internet search that led him to Invest Ottawa’s Advisory Services, which connected him to business advisors Karla Briones and Stephanie Hault.

An image of Fernando leaning over his teal chicha cart giving a thumbs up.

Over the next eight months, González worked closely with Invest Ottawa’s advisors to prepare to make his business a reality, considering legal factors, preparing a business plan, marketing strategy for Chicha, financial plans, funding, employee management, production and more.

He says the advisors were instrumental in not only pointing him in the right direction but also encouraging him to keep going and giving him the problem-solving skills to make it happen.

“The biggest gain from me from Stephanie’s coaching was confidence, encouragement and enthusiasm,” he said. “She made me believe building the business was possible.”

“While Stephanie encouraged me to explore the business and flourish, Karla helped me reign it in and focus on problem-solving,” he continued. “She shared really good resources and gave me excellent advice.”

Careful planning, and a strong start for Chicha

According to González – the issue wasn’t whether he could generate enough buzz, it was making enough product to meet the demand.

An image of the Chicha cart set up at the Lansdowne Farmer's Market.

“My biggest obstacle initially was to make and bring enough product to the markets, as I sold out nearly every day for the first few weeks,” he said.

“Customers who heard about me on social media would drive up to one hour to find us, and we had a high number of repeat customers throughout the season, some even coming back multiple times per weekend or even per day.”

Even working part-time, González managed to generate over $35,000 throughout the season and had great indicators that there was a future for the business.

“Even though the financial plan relied on high sales, the public reception definitely came as a surprise. I was very touched,” he said. “I got incredible feedback from both the Venezuelan and Canadian community about the product and the brand.”

What’s happening next for Chicha?

González says after the positive lessons learned from operating last year, he’s excited about retooling and taking another, more strategic, run at it this year.

“I now have all the equipment, established processes, a recognizable brand with a loyal following, and an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience, so I was encouraged to try again this year,” he said.

“Some customers have expressed interest in franchising, so I would consider that path in the future – after running at least two carts myself,” he added, pointing out that the insight was gained on Briones’ advice.

According to González, thanks to the lessons he’s learned through his experience and the knowledge he’s gained through advisory sessions, Chicha may not be the only venture he explores. “I’m now very confident in my entrepreneurship skills, and I’ve already been thinking of other business ideas,” he said.

The logo for Chicha Vegan Milkshakes - with white text on a teal background. The I in Chi is represented by a grain on rice.

Until then, Chicha will appear at Lansdowne Farmers’ Market every Sunday and at pop-up events around the city.

For the lowdown on when and where you can catch Chicha around town, follow their social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook —or visit the Chicha website.

­­Have a business idea? Not sure about your next steps? 

Reach out to Invest Ottawa’s Advisory Services to get tailored guidance from a business expert who will help address your needs and challenges.


Invest Ottawa
Invest Ottawa, is Ottawa’s leading economic development agency for fostering the advancement of the region's globally competitive knowledge-based institutions and industries. Invest Ottawa delivers its economic development services through a unique partnership with the City of Ottawa, where the City and Invest Ottawa, through its members set the strategy and manage the programs that move Ottawa’s economy forward. Invest Ottawa is a non-profit, partnership organization that operates on an annual budget that comes from a variety of sources including: municipal, federal and provincial government; membership fees; professional development programs; and private sector contributions.

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