In December, the new version of director Steven Spielberg on the musical classic West Side Story has arrived in theaters, and even before its release there was already Oscar buzz. More so than the original 1957 version, this version focused on the obstacles that many immigrants face when coming to America. Armando Tavani isn’t a fictional character, but his trip to America and the obstacles he encountered while starting his auto repair business might seem straight out of Hollywood.
It featured the first act; the motivation to leave his native country, Argentina, due to economic difficulties. The plot advances to where it looks like everything will work out, only to have everything come to a halt when a global pandemic has brought the world to a halt. Still, this is America, and dreams can come true, especially for those determined to pick themselves up, refuse to quit, and persevere.
If there was an award for hard work and perseverance, Tavani wouldn’t just earn a nomination, he’s this year’s favorite. And luckily, her story has a Hollywood-worthy happy ending.
don’t cry for me argentina
For anyone considering starting a business, there will always be challenges, but trying to do so in 2020 has proven to be particularly difficult. Add to the fact that you live in Argentina and are looking to move to the United States and it takes more than determination.
COVID came later.
For Tavani, he didn’t even know what type of business he wanted to get into, and he had little experience in auto repair. Yet something drew him to this line of work, and for lesser men and women, they might have given up before moving forward.
“Every step of the process was a challenge,” says Tavani. “Nothing was easy, and the process was longer than I could have imagined. But every moment I spent starting the business was worth it.”
The new owner/operator of a Milex/Mr. A transmission auto repair shop in Margate, Florida, it wasn’t finally able to open until May, more than a year after it arrived in America. He learned a lot about running a business and car maintenance.
“I didn’t really have a car repair background, but I’ve always been interested in cars,” says Tavani.
However, Tavani had worked in the corporate world and started a successful real estate business in his native Argentina and things were going well. However, while the United States suffered greatly in the aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse and the “Great Recession”, for parts of South America the situation was much worse. The economic crisis was also not the first and will probably not be the last.
“We’ve had a few good years, but there’s so much corruption in Argentina and things are constantly going up and down,” he says. “Even when business was good there was rampant inflation and prices rose and rose. In 2017-2018 we had a new government and there was a brief hope, but when I realized it would always be the same , I decided that I had to find a place to provide a better life for my family.”
Tavani and his wife discussed moving to Europe, but language was an obstacle. Even if there were opportunities and even an Argentinian community in Italy, it would be a challenge. Spain was also considered, but instead the Tavani family became like so many others who have crossed oceans in search of opportunity.
It was America.
I love being in America
It started little by little, little by little. Southeast Florida, where he and his family had vacationed, made the most sense. There was a large Spanish-speaking community and there were plenty of opportunities for those willing to work hard. After considering all sorts of franchise opportunities, even ice cream, he settled on something car-related.
“I didn’t want to open Armando’s shop, but the auto repair industry made sense. There are so many cars and the market is so big,” says Tavani. “If I had to take a small piece of big cake, I knew there was more than enough for everyone.”
He decided to stay away from Miami, but knew the market just north of there would present opportunities. This is how he came to run his own Milex/Mr. Freight allowance. The next hurdle, however, was finding a location. Since round-trip flights weren’t exactly an option, much of the early stage work was done online. The internet allows people to search thousands of miles away, but Tavani, who was starting her business on an A2 visa, still had to travel to Florida to see the best sites for herself and close the deal.
After signing the franchise contract in late 2019, Tavani arrived in the United States on March 9, 2020. It was days before the spread of the novel coronavirus shut down the entire country and derailed his schedule.
The original plan was to get the business up and running; then return to Argentina in June to help relocate his family to South Florida. However, travel restrictions were changing minute by minute.
He didn’t look back. Tavani was soon able to bring his wife and 10-year-old daughter to the United States. With the family in America, he was able to get a visa extension and move forward with the business.
While the pandemic has impacted the entire auto service industry, delays have prevented him from returning to Buenos Aires to apply for a permanent visa until February 2021. This in turn was derailed when he could start the business.
It was just one of many setbacks he faced – some that may have convinced lesser men to give up and go “home”. For Tavani, that was never an option, even though he was still waiting for his permanent visa, America was his new home and he was determined to make it work.
Pandemic, problems and finally success
For Americans, it was the year of the pandemic, with social distancing, masking and hope for a vaccine. For Tavani, he also had to find a location – a second time in fact, because the first failed because the landlord decided to raise the rent.
He was back online, surveying the scene and carefully considering his next moves.
“I spoke to my wife and we agreed, we have to stay and see what happens,” says Tavani. “We started looking for a new location, and in August 2020 we finally signed the lease contract, which started at the end of September.”
Everything was already six months late. After that came the other challenges, including obtaining the plethora of permits, a rarely smooth process but one that has worsened during the pandemic.
Having started a business in Argentina, Tavani was already used to government bureaucracy and endless bureaucracy, and in fact it prepared him for the worst. Finally, once all the signatures were collected and the documents filed, he returned to South America, obtained the permanent visa and was ready to start the business.
By then he had hired the first and most important of his employees, the one who became a true partner in running the shop.
“I needed to find an ASE-certified technician for the commercial license, and I was so lucky to find Kyle, who is a great young man,” says Tavani. “This was followed by a drafter/service manager Alex and a shop technician Aldo.”
Finally in May 2021, the shop was operating five and a half days a week, including Saturday mornings. Since that opening, Tavani has not found himself a stranger in a foreign land; instead, he adapted to his new adopted home. Argentine’s culinary tastes are a little different from the Cuban and Salvadoran dishes common to South Florida, and his Spanish has some subtle differences as well, but he says he’s adapted to life in South Florida. Florida.
The fact that he is bilingual helped. With Aldo, originally from El Salvador, they can converse with a very varied clientele.
“We have such a good mix of English and Spanish speaking employees,” says Tavani. “We have so many clients who don’t speak a word of English. Aldo is able to explain to them even when things are quite technical. I have spoken English all my life, and I am so grateful to my parents who taught that at a young age.”
Since moving to Florida, the Tavani family has met other people from Argentina, including a family that now owns a body shop. It helped with some of the homesickness, but Tavani says it’s possible to find plenty of treats at the house, from Argentinian butter candies.
get your hands dirty
One thing Tavani didn’t expect was to find the streets lined with gold or live in “Easy Street” immediately. He wanted to come to the country to work hard and have opportunities that were simply not available to him. He added that anyone looking to open a business, especially an auto service or repair shop, should be aware that it could mean long hours.
“I’m involved in the shop and I know I needed to learn a lot,” he says. “So I want to be there when Kyle or Alex have something to say to a customer. It gives me the opportunity to understand the process. I’ll never be an ACS Certified Technician, but I’m willing to learn. I can own the franchise, but I have to work like one of the guys.”
That means he’s learned to do oil changes, while he’s just as likely to be making coffee in the morning and sweeping in the evening.
“I love it,” he says. “Honestly, I love it. I love getting my hands dirty and working hard. I think anyone who gets into this business needs to understand that you’re going to go home with dirt and grease on your hands.”
Even with long days ahead to launch the first store, Tavani admits the idea of expansion crossed his mind.
“I’m thinking about the next step, and really who in my position wouldn’t. But I know I’m not at that stage of the business,” Tavani says. “This little boy can’t even crawl, and I need to be there all day. But oh yeah, I know when I get to that point I’ll be so excited to have a second one.”