By Ally Jokl
Soledad Ivaldi is forging new connections between her native Argentina and her long-time home Maryland. Continents apart, Argentina lies far to the south while Maryland is in the middle of the US Atlantic coast. The two places already have many similarities. They share long scintillating silvery beaches to the East and mountains to the West. Both boast cosmopolitan cities and have founding lores- the gauchos on the pampas and the waterman along the shores of the Chesapeake. Each are famous for cuisine that flows from the traditions, Argentinian steak and Maryland crabs and seafood.
Quiet spaces are a luxury now that both of Soledad’s teens are in online school, but she finds a sanctuary in her home in Kensington, Maryland for our interview. We talk about food, family, a new connection between Argentina and Maryland, her business deliClub Kensington.
Soledad and her younger sister, Muriel, were raised by their parents in Buenos Aires. She was a city girl until her parents packed up their family and moved to Patagonia, a mountainous region in southern Argentina. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Soledad gushes about the drastic move, “I met my best friend in Patagonia. It changed my life.” From ages fourteen to eighteen, Soledad hiked in the mountains and swam in the lakes. Having grown up myself playing and climbing in the Canadian Rockies, we bond over our shared love of the outdoors.
After high school, she returned to Buenos Aires for college to study biology. She met her husband in the lab she worked at when he was a PhD student. Soledad began her own doctoral studies in Buenos Aires, but her husband had graduated and wanted to do a postdoc abroad. In 2002, the couple moved to Maryland where Soledad finished her doctorate in biology at John Hopkins University. Both her children were born while she was studying. After graduate school she worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at the NIH for nearly ten years.
Muriel was on a different path back in Argentina. In 2010, Muriel and her husband opened deliClub, a deli café and market in Martínez, a small town near Argentina’s capital city Buenos Aires. The restaurant was a family affair as Soledad invested in the business. Soledad and her family loved visiting Argentina and deliClub when they could. deliClub has since expanded to multiple locations in Buenos Aires, including a location at the US Embassy.
“I always had the feeling that I wanted to do something to give to others…You can use food to give joy to somebody else. I like the feeling of seeing somebody enjoy something that [I] do or make.”
Something was missing for Soledad in her career. Work in the laboratory was fulfilling but she was not completely satisfied. She was passionate about cooking and sharing, “I always had the feeling that I wanted to do something to give to others…You can use food to give joy to somebody else. I like the feeling of seeing somebody enjoy something that [I] do or make.”
Soledad felt a need for change but walking away from her decades long career was scary. She dreamed of starting a business in Maryland but lacked entrepreneurial knowledge and was afraid of failure. In 2017, she dipped her toes in the water and started a deliClub booth on Saturdays at the Kensington Farmers Market. The Latino Economic Development Center helped her with some administrative aspects of starting the business. The deliClub booth sold fresh sandwiches, soups, and salads. Customers loved their products and the booth was successful, but Soledad only operated for three months. Raising two children and working in research full time made the deliClub booth unsustainable. However the booth’s success and positive feedback was excellent market research and showed Soledad that an American deliClub location was viable. Her dream was born.
Soledad watched her kids grow up and become more independent as the years passed. She wanted to teach her children to follow their own dreams, so she decided it was time to seriously pursue her own.
“I was curious, I wanted to explore…I was looking for my way to fulfil my dreams…to accomplish what I wanted to do…As I didn’t have any experience as an entrepreneur, I thought that maybe taking a class was going to help me. And it did.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst Soledad needed. She received an email from LEDC with information about Empowered Women International’s Entrepreneur Training for Success (ETS) program. She participated in Fall 2020. This was a big step for Soledad, she says “I was curious, I wanted to explore…I was looking for my way to fulfil my dreams…to accomplish what I wanted to do…As I didn’t have any experience as an entrepreneur, I thought that maybe taking a class was going to help me. And it did.”
Ideas and dreams are great, but Soledad needed a concrete business plan and resources outside the scientific field. ETS helped her get organized. The course forced her to write a business plan and allowed her to network with others outside of science. She overcame some of her fears of failure and of not knowing enough to run a successful business.
Soledad’s dream location for a local deliClub became vacant while in the ETS course. The first deliClub in Martínez was half a block from a train station. As if by fate, Soledad’s location is half a block from the Kensington metro station. She describes, “It’s a great location to start. It’s cute, and because it’s located in Old Town Kensington, it’s very appealing.”
Family is the heart of deliClub. Soledad and her sister continue to be business partners. The pair were close growing up and sharing this experience is helping them connect further. When I ask what the business means to her family she says, “For my family in Argentina, it means connection. Even though we are far away, we are sharing. We are doing the same business.” Soledad’s mission to provide the same caring experience as the deliClub locations in Argentina. deliClub Kensington represents a passion she can share with her sister in Argentina, her husband, and her children. Her husband supported her and her dreams throughout the process. Now, she is leading her children by example so that they will pursue their own dreams.
I spoke with Soledad last year before her grand opening. deliClub Kensington opened on December 17, 2020. “We are very thankful for the great support from the community and friends,” she shares in an email, “We have been busy despite the pandemic and winter season.” Soledad aims to provide the same caring experience in Kensington as the deliClub locations in Argentina.
The Fall 2020 ETS course was held online so Soledad had never met Nilufar, her ETS trainer, or Nicole, EWI’s Regional Program Coordinator, in person. Nilufar and Nicole stopped in to visit recently and tried some of the delicious offerings! Soledad writes, “I had the pleasure to meet Nicole and Nilufar in person! I am very thankful for the help and support I received from EWI mentors and trainers.” At the café and market, guests can enjoy fresh and tasty meals and bring home artisan food and beverage products.
When she’s out of the kitchen, Soledad continues to spend her time hiking and biking in nature. She still loves the mountains in Argentina, but her favorite local spot is Cape Henlopen State Park across the Chesapeake on Delaware’s Atlantic coast.
You can find Soledad and deliClub Kensington in Kensington’s Antique Village at 3750 Howard Avenue in Kensington, Maryland. The website is www.deliclubkensington.com and you can find them on Facebook at deliClub Kensington and on Instagram @deliclub_kensington.