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Hispanic Heritage Month: Entrepreneur Turns Great-Grandmother's Rum Drink Recipe Into Big Hit With Local Restaurant

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- It's Hispanic Heritage Month and CBS2 recently met an entrepreneur who refused to let the coronavirus pandemic stop her from selling a family recipe.

As CBS2's Lisa Rozner reported Wednesday, her family plays a big part in her success.

Growing up in The Smith Houses on the Lower East Side, Cynthia Sepulveda's family and friends always looked forward to her grandmother's coquito, a traditional coconut rum drink from Puerto Rico.

"And when she passed away, for two years we didn't celebrate, so I spoke to my mom and I said it's time to celebrate our traditions and our culture," Sepulveda said.

So she took the recipe started by her great-grandmother and put a little spin on it, sans condensed milk. She did it so her mother, who was diabetic and had cancer, could enjoy it.

"I started using real coconut, real ingredients. I got rid of cans and I infused it with coconut to compensate for the low sugar content," Sepulveda said.

In 2012, she launched Flaco Coquito and sales flourished. But in the years to follow, she lost her mother and father to cancer. She relaunched in 2019, utilizing Port Morris Distillery in the Bronx. But the pandemic halted production and liquor stores didn't want to take on new brands.

Sepulveda registered for the Latina Entrepreneurship Training Series through the New Jersey Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which welcomes New Yorkers. Carlos Medina is the president.

"And then it was folks negotiating leases, applying for grants, access to capital, all the banking relationships," Medina said.

In the spirit of supporting the brand, a Brooklyn restaurant even created its own concoction with the drink during the pandemic. It has been one of its best sellers.

"I saw Cynthia's passion," said Ronny Jaramillo, owner of Bar Crudo in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Bar Crudo is mixing it up and offering dessert cocktails without dairy.

"I think the biggest takeaway is not to give up. There's always something you could do to remix things," Sepulveda said.

And she pays it forward, too. Artwork on the back of the bottles by local artist Charlie Elo pays homage to the victims of Hurricane Maria and now those whose lives were lost to the coronavirus.

It's a confluence of support that the chamber calls a "circle of familia."

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