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Jun 12, 2020

Small Business Owner Gets Creative to Survive COVID-19 Impacts

Last week we told you about enterprising chocolatier Julio Saqui of Che’il Mayan Chocolate in Maya Center Village.  Tonight, Saqui shares his experience on the hardships COVID-19 has created for his chocolate brand and how he adjusts the way he conducts business to keep Che’il Mayan Chocolate afloat during this pandemic. Here’s the story.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

With the borders and the P.G.I.A. airport still closed, some sectors of the tourism industry are trying to target the local market. While hotels, restaurants, tour guides and operators, airlines and boat service have felt loss of the tourism dollars – many other small businesses that depend on the international visitors are finding different ways to get in on the local tourism dollars. Che’il Mayan Chocolate, for example, whose market is eighty percent international visitors, like many others had too close down operations for over two months. Co-founder Julio Saqui tells us what it’s like to have had to put his employees on a shift system.


Julio Saqui

Julio Saqui, Co-founder, Che’il Mayan Chocolate

“They now also have to think how they are gonna do their work but here we are suffering from that. We are not sure how we are going to be able to pay our bills in the next three months down the road if we don’t do any hard hitting work or pushing hard to be able to make that dollar but it is hard on us. This pandemic is a tragedy for us. We are not sure how it is gonna work.”


Before COVID-19, Che’il Mayan Chocolate was producing over four thousand chocolate bars for the month; now it is down to a thousand bars per month. But because of the way this local chocolate business benefits the wider Maya Center Village; many other families are now feeling the impact as well.


Julio Saqui

“Not only do we buy the beans and keep it but we take that beans and process it, so instead of us just becoming a family business, it is now us becoming a community business where they called me yesterday and say are you buying cacoa? I said no, until all of this virus business goes away we are going to start buying because they say we need to sell; we have a lot; we have like hundred pounds; fifty pounds; two hundred pounds. Everybody has their pieces that they want to bring but we can’t do anything yet.   It’s tremendous. It is so hard hitting, like somebody punch you down and you don’t know what happened. That’s like what we are getting. Our business is on a stand still. We are not processing. We are not making any money because our business base is tourist and the tourists are just not coming now.”


But despite this, Saqui is determined to keep this business afloat. But to do that, he knows that he has to make some changes from sizes to prices. And now he can only hope that Belizeans will support at Che’il Mayan Chocolate.


Julio Saqui

“So, what we are going to do now is that we are going to have to adjust everything and re-make everything so that we can now begin to target the Belizean market and target the people out there with the very few dollars and make that product palatable to them so that they can buy it. We are gonna have to slash down our prices. We are going to have to make more offers; more giveaways and allow them to come in even if to come for half price or even less for the tours. Because there are a lot of Belizeans that want to learn what we are doing here. Not only do they want to learn the chocolate but just the fun, being a part of the whole process is fun. And so we are encouraging them to come and then we are going to slash down our prices and then we are going to give them a package at the end as a token of ours, as an appreciation for coming. We are making the little packages of chocolate, the little one as giveaways. We’re going to have to be creative. This is something new. We’ve never had this experience before. But I am hopeful that the Belizean people will accept it because it is good chocolate.”


Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


Che’il Mayan Chocolate opens at eight in the morning until midday and then reopens in the afternoon at one until five every day of the week. For more information, you can contact them on Facebook.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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