From the founder of an e-discovery firm to restaurateurs, foreign-born business owners explain how they have made it in America.

MERCEDES PELLEGRINI

Owner • Vittorio’s Ristorante

When did you arrive in the United States, and why did you come?

I arrived from Brazil Dec. 5, 1969. I came because I met my now husband in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. We fell in love, and three days later we were married. He lived in Los Angeles, and that was where I was headed.

Did you intend to return to your native country at the time?

No; my intention was always to stay, but I didn’t tell him that.

Do you now?

No; I’ve been here for 40 years just this December and I love America.

Why did you start your business in the United States instead of your native country?

I was living here with my husband, and I always thought of the United States as the land of opportunity. My family always loved to cook and it was a no-brainer. I started making cakes and pastries, and Vittorio’s, the restaurant I own now, was a customer. Eventually, I was able to buy the place.

What’s the worst thing about starting and running a business in the United States?

The worst thing is definitely the taxes.

What’s the best thing?

The best thing is dealing with American people. They are warm and wonderful. Character and business ethics are far more visible here than in Brazil.

What were the biggest surprises?

I was surprised how easy it was to become successful in America. In Brazil, opportunity only comes to the very, very wealthy, and even the most meaningless job has one thousand applicants. There is no opportunity. You have to keep pushing yourself if you ever want to get ahead.

Would you tell someone from your native land to start a business there or here?

I would and do tell them to start one here because America is still the land of opportunity. If you are honest and work hard, one can really succeed.

What advice would you give someone from there about starting a business here?

Study hard when you are young, and work hard when you get older. There is no job too small and everything you do should be done with great pride. People will notice you.

Do you go back often?

I try to go back every few years, but running a small family business doesn’t allow me to travel as frequently.

What was your view of the United States when you were growing up?

When I was 5 years old, I read about the U.S., and from then on, it was the only place I wanted to live.

Did reality match your expectations?

And more.

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you as a foreign-born entrepreneur?

When I first started with Vittorio’s, I didn’t realize that we were in such an entertainment-heavy neighborhood. There were producers, directors and some big A-list actors who would come in for dinner. I had no idea who they were. As long as they liked the food and came frequently, I was OK. One night, Anthony Hopkins came in for dinner with some friends, and the server came up to me, very excited, and asked if I knew who was sitting at table 16. I had no idea, and asked if the food was OK. The server later told me who he was, and I was shocked. To date, Tony and I still laugh about it. He is one of our favorite customers.

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