Mexican eatery idea wins 'pitch deck' competition

Natalia Ruiz and Antonio Miceli
Jason Koski/University Photography
Natalia Ruiz and Antonio Miceli pitch their concept for authentic Mexican food.

A plan for a market-style eatery offering authentic Mexican food won top honors and $3,000 in the Pitch Deck Competition, sponsored by Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at the School of Hotel Administration (SHA) Nov. 17.

The Doña Nata concept was developed by graduate students Natalia Ruiz and Antonio Miceli, both MMH ’17.

“It all started in 2008 when I moved to Georgia as a student, and, despite the number of Mexican restaurants in Atlanta, they lacked the original flavors I grew up with,” Ruiz said. “The name is inspired by my grandmother Natalia – a humble and strong woman who respected native traditions in cooking and prepared everything from scratch.”

Miceli was raised in his family’s Italian-American restaurant in Long Island, where he served beside his grandmother in the kitchen. He said he identified with Ruiz’s inspiration.

The idea for the eatery is patterned on a market-style eatery known as a “fonda” in Mexico.

“The fonda is somewhat similar to today’s food hall approach to casual dining,” Ruiz said. She and Miceli plan to visit Atlanta in December to deepen their market research and scout potential sites.

Teams in the pitch deck competition prepared reading decks – a PowerPoint or similar slide presentation that can be read and understood without the author present, said Andrew Quagliata. A lecturer in management communication at SHA, Quagliata served as Pillsbury faculty ambassador and was the developer of the pitch deck competition. The competition is open to all students across campus, provided they partner with a SHA student.

A panel of industry judges evaluated the decks and narrowed the pool to three finalists, who then had 10 minutes to present their concept and 5 minutes to respond to questions from the panel.

“A strong component of this competition is communication,” Quagliata said. “Communication skills are essential for entrepreneurs. This competition values good ideas, but at its core we’ve designed the experience to allow students the opportunity to practice structuring an argument, design visual aids and deliver a message.”

Second place in the competition, with a prize of $1,500, went to SportStorm, a proposal for a novel garment for collegiate sports fans by Harrison Bernstein ’20 and Sam Frey ’20. Third place of $500 went to Bill’s Beer, Bread and Cheese, a restaurant and retail concept developed by William Mangan, MMH ’17, and Lydia Xu, MMH ’17.

Judges for the competition were Phil Miller ’83, Philippus Miller III & Associates; parent Randy Zelin, Randy Scott Zelin PC; Monica Digilio, Montage Hotels & Resorts; Oliver Bonke, Loews Hotels & Resorts; and Paul Budak, BCV, a social media company for the hospitality industry.

The competition was part of the institute’s events for Global Entrepreneurship Week, an international celebration of entrepreneurship promoted by the Kauffman Foundation. Other student-focused events hosted by the Pillsbury Institute included a Q&A session with an entrepreneur, a networking event for students, and entrepreneurs in residence office hours, as well as a roundtable on global entrepreneurship, and faculty and staff training on Gallup’s Coaching Entrepreneurial Talents Course.

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Melissa Osgood