By Benjamin Treviño | STAFF WRITER
Elizabeth Davis of McAllen personifies the immigrant success story. And although her journey is far from over, she reached a major entrepreneurial milestone this summer when the H-E-B supermarket chain agreed to place her line of pecan butter spreads on its shelves.
“It took me two years, but I made it,” said Davis. “So, for me, it’s a huge achievement.”
Born in Reynosa, Davis’ entrepreneurial journey began 20 years ago when, at the age of 22, she began catering meals for twin plant workers in Matamoros. Davis recalls that she was told from the outset that she was in over her head.
“People told me, ‘You can’t even cook an egg,’” Davis recalled. “But I would answer, ‘Yes, but I know how to eat well.’ I had struggles all along the way, but I always had a determination to make things happen. That’s what got me through all those adversities.”
Her early success prompted Davis to immigrate to the Rio Grande Valley in 2009. She came armed with little more than a determination to make her mark in the United States, despite having only rudimentary business skills, and not knowing any English.
“I’m still working on that,” Davis said in broken English. “Also, I didn’t have money, and nobody knew me here. Mainly, I had to rely on myself. I had to depend on my ability to connect with the right people. I had to challenge myself.”
Davis began making pecan-based pies, chocolates, and spreads at home and selling them at local farmers’ markets. Her biggest sellers were her line of Buttery spreads under the Nuts and Cows brand, which now come in three flavors — sea salt pecan, coconut-pecan, and cookie-pecan.
“I’m not the type of person to wait until I have $20,000 to start a business,” Davis said. “I’m not the type who waits until conditions are perfect. If I believe I can do something, I’m going to go do it. I started Nuts and Cows with only $89.”
Davis also knocked on a lot of doors, including the McAllen and Mission Chambers of Commerce, the McAllen Economic Development Center, UTRGV’s Small Business Development Center, and the U.S. Small Business Administration. Wherever business expertise was available, Davis was there, learning as she went along.
She also began winning various grants, including a $5,000 Innovation award, which she used to start a new business called Mi Cocina by the Hour. It’s an industrial kitchen based in downtown McAllen, which she rents out to other budding entrepreneurs who can’t afford to build and equip a kitchen of their own.
“I opened Mi Cocina because I wanted to grow my Nuts and Cows brand,” Davis said. “But that was not sustainable, so I expanded to idea to make a commercial kitchen that others could use. We have helped over 50 entrepreneurs to start their businesses, to try the market. Mi Cocina has been the kitchen for three of H-E-B’s Primo Picks finalists. So we incubated a lot of good businesses.”
Davis and her Nuts and Cows spreads were among the 2018 finalists in H-E-B’s Primo Picks Quest for Texas’ Best competition, an annual contest aimed at cultivating new business ventures. Her products didn’t make it to H-E-B shelves, but this summer she got the call.
“My son kept asking me, ‘When are we going to have the Buttery products in H-E-B,’” Davis said. “I told him I’m working on that. So, when I gave him the news he said, ‘Wow, finally mommy!’”
Buttery began appearing on the shelves of 111 Texas H-E-B stores the first week of August, and in two months, H-E-B has ordered 4,600 units.
“Elizabeth Davis represents the grit and resiliency of a true entrepreneur,” said Steve Ahlenius, McAllen Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “She exemplifies what McAllen can produce in a startup.”
Davis, a single mother of two children, wants to continue developing more business ideas, even as she continues her involvement in the community. She volunteers with Latina Hope, a program designed to foster emerging micro-entrepreneurs, and she hosts cooking classes and summer camps for kids at Mi Cocina. If there’s a challenge to be met, she wants to be the one to meet it.
“I never see things turning out in a bad way,” Davis said. “I see everything as a way to make me stronger and better. When I encounter something I don’t know about, I go find the answers. My goal is to keep doing what I’m doing. I enjoy the process. I enjoy the opportunity to grow my brand. I enjoy showing my family, friends, and supporters what is possible.”