“We have a little bit of everything here, and everyone’s so nice to each other.”
Living in Pennsylvania was once a dream for Greater Hazleton Area entrepreneur, Carolina Polanco. Don’t get it twisted, the Puerto Rico native cherished her island upbringing. She simply enjoyed a slower pace to life outside the chaotic hustle of her family’s restaurant businesses.
Her family made a name for themselves in Puerto Rico’s hospitality industry. And Carolina got her start at the ripe old age of three – operating registers. She followed her passion for the business to college where she earned a B.A. in Culinary Arts Management, followed by a Master’s in Accounting. Then, soon after finding the love of her life, the opportunity arose to relocate to the mainland.
At 23, Carolina and her husband followed her little sister to Hazleton. They quickly found work in the Mountain City. And, before long, the chef/entrepreneur, alongside her full-time gig at PNC Bank, had opened Carola’s Bakery. And when life slowed down during the early days of the pandemic, Carolina shifted into high gear. She founded Alpaca Distributors, LLC, a wholesale, dry goods and restaurant supplies distributor focusing on local, small businesses in Hazleton.
We recently caught up with the Greater Hazleton Chamber’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year at The Hub in Downtown Hazleton. Of course, the natural-born go-getter tried to credit any praise for her success to the influence of her hard-working parents. Likely true, but also, if ya’got it, ya’ got it. Just watch this kid take on the tough questions, like Why NEPA?
How long have you lived in NEPA?
Ok. So, it’s going to be four years in April. On the 8th – exactly four years.
What do you love about your town?
Well, currently I live in Macadoo. And I love everything. It’s quiet. There are a few churches around town. You’ll always see kids running around or riding their bikes. And I just love that. It’s a really safe town. We love the neighborhood and the few little restaurants. There’s like four of them, but they’re all great. We have a park about five minutes away from the house. There’s a playground for the kids and basketball hoops and a pavilion if you want to have parties. What I really love, though, is that there’s a great balance between different races and nationalities. We have a little bit of everything here, and everyone’s so nice to each other.
What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?
Oh, I love this question, because my husband and I love to eat. And I’m a chef, so I think I can be a really tough person to please when it comes to food (laughs). I can be really picky. Actually, he’s kind of picky, too. But I think I can speak for both of us when I say that our favorite restaurant is the River Grille in Wilkes-Barre. Yeah. I love everything there. They have a great deck and patio area overlooking the river. You have great views. I love their mojitos and their food is excellent. I really love their Lobster Mac n Cheese. It’s so good. They use a lot of lobster in there and it’s a little crunchy on top. It’s the perfect combination. I just love the atmosphere especially in the summer and fall.
What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?
Well, I’m a wine lover, and I try to go to a new winery every weekend. So far, my favorite one has been the Radical Winery in Lehighton. Now, my husband doesn’t really like wine, but just loves to see me enjoying it, you know? He likes to hear me describe it – to hear my passion for it. I’m always like “I can taste orange, or cherries” (laughs). He loves to watch me figure wines out. So, yeah, that’s really my favorite thing. Oh, and I love shopping. I love to go to all the little towns and even the bigger malls, like in Wilkes-Barre, but I really like to go and do some people watching. I love it. That’s how you really get to see the amazing diversity that we got here in NEPA. There are just people from everywhere.
What’s next for you?
I’m the type of person who doesn’t quit easy. I want to keep growing my businesses. In the future, I don’t want to work for someone else. I want to sit in my bakery some day and say, “I did all of this.” I want to say I did it for my family and for my mom and dad. That’s what pushes me. That’s what is next for me.
Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?
I’ve said it before. I think Northeastern Pennsylvania can become like a second New York City. We’re seeing a lot of different cultures coming together here – more than ever before. It’s amazing. There are so many new businesses opening every day. I think NEPA is already a really good area to invest in and to start to build something in. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any businesses closing around here. It’s always just like someone’s opening something new and that’s a good sign.
Why do it anywhere else? You know? I love the diversity here because it brings a variety of activities. And you can live in rural, or suburban areas and still be close to the more urban areas, which allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds. We’ve got shopping, parks, waterparks, wineries, of course, and so much more. And right here in the Hazleton area, specifically, we have the intersection of 80 and 81, which makes everything so convenient. And it’s perfect for businesses.