The “Paris of South America,” as Buenos Aires, Argentina is admiringly called, makes a habit of turning tourists into expats. With its distinct burrows, intense pride in fútbol and sociable people, it’s a hard place to forget. This was the case for New Orleans native Liza Puglia. After taking a break from working as a line cook in New York, she decided to travel. She and a friend started their journey in El Salvador and continued traveling to other Latin American countries, ending in the city of Buenos Aires. After visiting the capital for a month, it took Puglia only six weeks to return. As a classically trained chef with a degree from the French Culinary Institute, plus a bachelor’s in international business, she saw a perfect mix of opportunities: No commitments in the states, a passion and talent for cooking and a market that was lacking diversity in its food.
Though a skilled chef, Puglia understood it was still crucial to consider the market in which she was introducing her product. In the fairly homogeneous country of Argentina, the general population has become accustomed to very moderate flavors. In other words, they are not fans of spicy foods. Popular foods like ham and cheese sandwiches, thin breaded chicken known as “milanesa,” and the Argentine version of croissants, “medialunas,” demonstrate the general lack of spice. Although nothing will ever get rid of these staples, Buenos Aires natives, or porteños, have definitely embraced a more varied food scene in recent years. This is demonstrated in the formation of more diverse restaurants like Sunae Asian Cocina, which serves various Asian food, and Olaya, which serves Peruvian food. In a country well known for its wine, they have started to embrace micro-breweries like Buena Birra Social Club and Blue Dog Beer Station. There has arguably never been a better time to introduce something new to the eager palettes of Argentines, and that’s exactly what Puglia did when she decided to start cooking spicy Cajun in Buenos Aires.
There has arguably never been a better time to introduce something new to the eager palettes of Argentines, and that’s exactly what Puglia did when she decided to start cooking spicy Cajun in Buenos Aires.
She tested the waters by selling Cajun food at a local farmer’s market and was met with success. From there, she created the brand “Nola,” a name she used to pay homage to her hometown, New Orleans, Louisiana. Puglia’s first venture under the Nola brand was hosting “puertas cerradas,” or closed-door events, where guests enjoyed a delicious dinner cooked by Puglia herself. Next came the brick and mortar restaurant Nola, which was opened in 2014 and has continued to find success through present day. Cajun cuisine has many dishes, and Puglia has mentioned that she was careful of what she decided to put on the menu for her Argentine customers— for example, where Nola found success with fried chicken and gumbo, it did not with biscuits and gravy. The restaurant also warns customers if a dish is spicy and puts spicier sauces on the side so that customers can add it at their discretion. Nola also features a selection of artisanal beer and wine, all in an effort to further cater to the local market.
It is easy to eat and drink at Nola today and see why it is so popular even with locals— the food is amazing and so is the beer. However, not all stories of small businesses end the same as Puglia’s venture. Her success has been a result of smart business decisions. Examining the market and taking note of its differences has allowed her to tailor the Nola experience to the Argentine market without losing her authentic menu of Cajun flavors. Thinking globally is the ever expanding future of business, and it affects a global company whether they have 500 employees or 10. With research, planning and calculated risk, even the most unlikely customers became Puglia’s biggest fans.