The Incredible Determination of Mr. Celestin Odilon

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Celestin Odilon photo by @spexphoto
Celestin Odilon photo by @spexphoto

First published in SPRING 2016 “TOP 10 HAITIAN Business Leaders in South Florida” edition. 

From Working on a Chicken Farm to Owning One of the Biggest Haitian Restaurants (O’King Créole) in South Florida

By Sarah Brutus

Q: Where are you from?

A: An area close to Cap-Haitien, Haiti. I moved to the Bahamas in 1998. I came to the United States in 2001.

Q: What did you do when you got to the United States?

A: I was in Miami for about a week. I then moved to Maryland, where I worked on a chicken farm. I was only there for a little while, because I couldn’t stand the cold weather. When I came back to Miami I started working in a restaurant as a dishwasher. After that I worked with a company, cutting grass. Then went to work at a bakery. I also did a vocational program at Dorce in construction. I also washed cars on the weekends. I worked in the bakery for almost 2 years. After that, I opened my own bakery.

Q: How did you get started with your own bakery?

A: I saw there was an opportunity to open a bakery, but I didn’t have the money to get it started. I rented a place and was able to do construction and renovations on the bakery by myself. I saved some money from my job and used that to get a place. I didn’t realize how much money it would take to open the bakery, and halfway through I got stuck. One day I saw this flyer that said, ‘No Credit, No Experience’ and you get a loan. I qualified for four thousand dollars. With that I bought a mixer and an oven, and started it.

Celestin Odilon photo by @spexphoto
Celestin Odilon photo by @spexphoto

”One day I saw this flyer that said ‘No Credit, No Experience’ and you get a loan. I qualified for four thousand dollars. With that I bought a mixer and an oven and started it.”

Q: What was it like at first? Did you have employees?

A: At this time I didn’t have any employees. I just had 2 guys that I offered to partner with me in the bakery. They didn’t want to. They preferred to just work for me. That first year we sold $140,000 worth of goods. I also packaged the bread. I got a car and would take the bread to all the supermarkets and put it on their shelves for free. That’s how I got it into the supermarkets. After that, they started to buy the bread all over. I also started making other products, including pickles, peanut butter and jelly, and bottling them.

“I got a car and would take the bread to all the supermarkets and put it on their shelves for free. That’s how I got it into the supermarkets.”

Q: How did you get into the restaurant?

A: People started to ask me to serve breakfast at the bakery. I did that, but the bakery was becoming too small. So I bought a building for the restaurant. My goal is to do a fast-food creole franchise like American fast food. We have great food and we need to sell it and market it to the public. I opened the restaurant in 2014.

Q: When you left Haiti, did you know you would get into the restaurant business?

A: No, I always liked lawyers. I don’t like seeing people get mistreated. My dad was always into business and said that, no matter what you do, learn something that will allow you to be your own boss. I saw a big demand and big opportunity to have a restaurant.

Q: In the next 10 years, where do you see your business going?

A: I see having 20-25 restaurants, if not more, by then.

Q: What advice would you give someone wanting to get into the business?

“A: Use your brain. Work hard. Do the best you can do. Take control of your own life. Don’t listen to someone who says you can’t do it. Life is not easy. You just have to do it.”

Q: What is one of the challenges you have faced?

A: People saying that I can’t do it. People saying that I’m crazy and that my franchise concept won’t work. It doesn’t discourage me. It actually makes me laugh, because I know what I’m working on and I know what I’m doing. I like to show all those people that I can do it, even when they don’t believe in me.

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