SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - This month is National Hispanic Heritage Month, and every year from September 15 through October 15 we celebrate the culture and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans to our country.
Savannah’s Hispanic community continues to grow, and WTOC caught up with one Peruvian business owner who now proudly calls the Hostess City home.
“I came at the age of 17. I left my family, friends, I had to adapt here, new language, new people, new country.”
Mary Githens followed her older sister to America more than a decade ago as a teenager, and she admits, she felt a bit of culture shock at first.
"Lima (Peru) is very different than Savannah, we have over 10 million inhabitants, but I found it just really beautiful here too. I never thought i would stay this long here. "
She also never imagined she’d be the owner of two businesses. Latin Chicks, her first restaurant, opened its doors less than a year after she graduated from Armstrong. She and her business partner, who is Mexican, saw a void of true Latin cuisine in Savannah.
Opening this restaurant wasn’t easy and the timing was definitely ideal. The first location for Latin Chicks was in the Oglethorpe Mall Food Court.
“I had some savings, he had some savings, right at 2009 right after the big recession, it was very difficult but we took advantage of the opportunity because there were other spots not open in the mall, so we could negotiate, so we actually saw it as an opportunity.”
That opportunity paid off! A few years later Latin Chicks outgrew the mall food court and moved to Waters Avenue. The award-winning restaurant is a local favorite, and last year, Githens decided to take on a new venture. Mint to Be Mojito Bar opened in February, but once again, the timing couldn’t have been worse.
“We operated only for 20 days and then we had to shut down." That shutdown came because of the COVID pandemic.
Opening a new business in 2020 was a challenge, but she said she learned a valuable lesson the first time around.
“When I lived through those difficult times when I opened up 12 years ago, I saw how much we were struggling, so I wanted to make anyway to make my business and my restaurant recession-free.”
With two successful businesses under her belt, she is now paying it forward, by mentoring other Hispanic and Latina students at her Alma mater. She says she wished she had that type of support when she was a young college student and hopes to provide that to the next generation.
Overall, she believes her biggest pride comes in sharing her culture in a city she now calls home.
“I feel very proud of our heritage and I feel so happy about the response and how welcoming all the community is.”