6. Carlos Castro
Country of origin: El Salvador
Occupation: President and CEO, Todos Supermarket
His advice to immigrant entrepreneurs: "Never let discrimination be an excuse for not being successful."
Castro fled to California from civil war-torn El Salvador in 1980 at age 26, forced to leave his wife and young children behind. "At the time, I worked in the factories. The guerilla unions were taking over the factories and the jobs . . . there were many kidnappings and killings," he told Kiplinger.
Castro, who entered the U.S. illegally, eventually landed in the Washington, D.C.-area. He worked as a janitor and as a dishwasher and cook at a restaurant before becoming a legal resident in 1986. He started working construction and saved enough money to reunite with his family in D.C. By 1987, he had opened a small construction business of his own.
In 1988, a family friend suggested that he and his wife Gladis start a Hispanic grocery store. The couple spent the next couple of years trying to learn as much as possible about starting a small business. Once they had enough money, they opened the first Todos Supermarket in Woodbridge, Va., in 1990.
The first year was rough. Money was tight, and both Carlos and Gladis still had to work other jobs to help make ends meet at home. "My wife was making more cleaning houses than we were at the first store," Castro recalls. He eventually turned things around and opened a second Todos location in Alexandria, Va., in 1998. By 2001, business had grown so much that he had to move the first store from its 5,000-square-foot space to a 15,000-square-foot building. "That's when profits really started to roll in," Castro says. In 2007, he opened another location in Dumfries, Va.
Todos Supermarkets took in $15.9 million last year and projects sales of about $18 million for 2012. When it comes to starting your own company, there will be plenty of naysayers, Castro says. "That's why it's important to always believe in yourself."