María Antonieta Gastelum Cervantes was only a little girl growing up in Mexico when she first dreamed of opening her own popsicle shop.
When in 2007 she moved across the border from Nogales, Sonora, to Nogales, Arizona, she came much closer to her dream – with a twist. After trying the popsicle idea, she realized the traditional Mexican drink called “Agua Fresca” would have a better chance in the American market.
And so it did.
Today she runs her very own Aguas Frescas Tomy, a booming business of homemade flavored drinks that sell throughout Arizona.
“When I told my father I wanted to start a business, he told me: ‘Take the leap. Jump into the water because if you never do so, you’ll never know if you’re able to swim’,” Gastelum Cervantes told Fox News Latino.
Agua Fresca, which means "fresh water," is a drink made by combining water and sugar with fruits, flowers or grains.
Gastelum Cervantes started her business with funding from Nogales Community Development, she said, and with the hands-on help of family and friends.
The 46-year-old mother of four said there were hardships, but she persevered.
She personally went out looking for customers, making most of her sales by reaching out to clients, who constantly told her that her aguas frescas were superb.
A big turn came in 2012 when she started to bottle up the product – as opposed to selling it on site – and established Aguas Frescas Tomy. Now she was able to expand.
Even though she operates only out of a local kitchen in Nogales, Gastelum Cervantes has managed to make her business grow. With the help of a single employee and her family, she personally squeezes limes, cooks rice and boils hibiscus flowers to create her aguas frescas.
On a good day, Gastelum Cervantes bottles around 600 aguas frescas entirely from scratch, she said.
Her brightly colored drinks can be found in 7 different venues in Nogales, 11 in Tucson, and 1 in Phoenix. She even has clients that travel from as far away as Canada and Minnesota to take back some of her products.
Currently Gastelum Cervantes carries six flavors: limeade, horchata, hibiscus, tamarind, barley, and limonaica, a combination of limeade and hibiscus.
The drinks have no preservatives, she said, which helps them retain their natural flavors. However, this makes Gastelum Cervantes’ work a bit harder. Each week, she personally delivers her products to her vendors in Tucson and Nogales.
A skillful businesswoman today, Gastelum Cervantes attributes her success partially to her family and partially to her genetic makeup. Although she learned everything she knows from her husband, Francisco Javier Cervantes, who taught her the ropes in his family’s popsicle shop, Gastelum Cervantes’ family has a long history of artisans and entrepreneurs.
“I think I already had it in me, in my blood,” she said.
For Gastelum Cervantes, quality is the number one priority. She vows to never sell a discolored drink and continue making them by hand, even if machinery would surely help her increase production.
“The color of the agua fresca tells you so much about its flavor,” she said. “When you give someone an agua fresca full of color, full of fruits, not even ice can take away the flavor.”
The secret to her success? She says it's all about love and care.
“Everything that you do in this life with love grows,” she told FNL. “If you grow a plant, if you raise your children with love, you will have better results.”
María José Sada is a College Associate at Fox News Latino.