Gettin' Jiggly With It

California Dreaming

By 1981, Sobrino, her husband and their young daughter had transplanted to Los Angeles to open the second office of Mexico & Westside Connection Corp. But 1982 saw both the incorporation and demise of the travel business after the devaluation of the peso devastated Mexico. "It stopped my business completely," says Sobrino.

Her business wasn't all that stopped. Due to a deteriorating relationship and the struggle to raise a 7-year-old daughter at the height of a recession, Sobrino's marriage also halted. Her daughter and now-ex-husband retreated south, but Sobrino remained. "I believed it was a good opportunity," she says, "and I was afraid to go back to Mexico because I thought things there were going to change a lot. And they did."

Attempting to find a strategy for survival, Sobrino sold property she had in Mexico and lived off the money. "I even [did my] shopping in Tijuana for a year or so," she says of the lengths she went to afford necessities on her budget.

But the money didn't last--and despite pleas from her family to return home, Sobrino sought self-reliance. "I needed to make a decision about what I was going to do," she recalls.

Sobrino's answer came in the form of...Jell-O? "As a consumer, I tried buying gelatin cups--because in Mexico, I was accustomed to having gelatina throughout the day." But ready-to-eat gelatin was nonexistent in 1982, and Jell-O, which didn't unveil its pre-made line until 1993, only offered the packaged-powder variety. After combining ingredients herself to create a treat more flavorful than her Jell-O-eating neighbors had ever experienced, Sobrino got that twinge of excitement that often accompanies an impending business.

Once friends convinced her that using her nickname, LuLu, in her company's moniker wasn't too egotistical, Sobrino secured a lease for a 700-square-foot storefront in Torrance, California--a space she laughs about now. "I didn't even have a chair in my office," chuckles Sobrino. "[The chair] was a milk crate."

But a lack of interest in the desserts hurt business. "I noticed after three months that nobody knew what I was talking about--gelatin, ready-to-eat?" Sobrino says. She added tortas, baked goods and coffee to the menu but to no avail. "I got tired of working 10 hours a day and not really having sales."

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Gettin' Jiggly With It.

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