It Started with a Dream

Carlos Valenzuela always loved his hometown of Santa Rosa de Copán, nestled in the mountains of western Honduras. 

Despite living in one of the country’s poorest regions, Carlos (below center) was skeptical of leaving Santa Rosa de Copán and his family behind.

His dream was to open a restaurant with a community feel and fast, delicious food. Four years ago, he put that plan into motion. He opened Calito’s Grill, which seated just 12 people and struggled to attract more than a few repeat customers.

Carlos Valenzuela

The Two Carloses

To help get his restaurant off the ground, Carlos contacted a close friend, Carlos Milla (below, on right), who had started a digital advertising company a few months earlier.

With Milla’s help, Carlos launched an aggressive online marketing campaign. Together, the Carloses positioned Calito’s Grill as the new place to be—a must-visit attraction for locals.

Within two years, Calito’s Grill quadrupled its seating capacity. Carlos is opening a second location to serve the ever-growing demand.

“I was losing a restaurant. Carlos Milla gave me a brand.”

–Carlos Valenzuela

Seeking Local Disruptors

The two Carloses are part of a first crop of entrepreneurs participating in the USAID-funded Transforming Market Systems Activity, which identifies, incubates, and accelerates small enterprises with a vision to solve hard problems. With this support, Carlos Valenzuela is learning about digital marketing and branding, while Carlos Milla is learning about e-commerce and finance technology.

Milla now runs a digital content agency. At the age of 30, he manages marketing and publicity for 10 companies.

Their businesses have created local jobs that leverage the talent and energy of young people and lay a path toward living and working in Honduras.

“Before the [trainings], I felt like I was in competition with all restaurants around me. I realized that my neighbor’s success is also my success because it brings more people to the region.”

–Carlos Valenzuela

Staying, Living, Thriving

To maintain this momentum, both young men realize they need more than a good business plan; they need a country and a city that maximizes a potential for tourism, better livelihoods, and a rebranding of not just a restaurant, but also a population at risk.

Creating More Reasons to Stay

Despite having a population of less than 50,000, Santa Rosa de Copán boasts some bucket list originals that tourists can only experience there, like sipping a madrazo, the typical drink of Santa Rosa, or touring the oldest tobacco factory in Central America built in 1765. It is rich with rural traditions, a cool climate, and, most importantly, safety—contrary to Honduras’s negative reputation.

The success of Calito’s Grill is a testament to the city’s budding economy, which is transforming its identity as a tourist destination.


Learn more about USAID’s work in Honduras.

Follow @USAIDHonduras and @acdivoca

About this story

USAID’s mission in Honduras partners with the tourism ministry, chambers of commerce, private sector companies, incubators, financial institutions, and many others to work toward a unified vision for tourism development and economic growth.

In April 2018, USAID helped launch the Transforming Market Systems Activity, implemented by ACDI/VOCA. The Activity works on deep-rooted, systemic change that catalyzes sustainable economic growth. That means more inclusive jobs for Hondurans who have fewer resources, weaker networks, and less influence and are, therefore, at risk of migrating.

The Activity focuses on four components: (1) value-added agriculture, (2) tourism and creative industries, (3) entrepreneurship, and (4) the business enabling environment.

Photos by USAID Transforming Market Systems Activity