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Capital Hustle turns tamales into dough with 'Mexican Cowboy'

Tuesday - 3/11/2014, 10:22am  ET

Emiliano Ruprah and Carlos Martin del Campo of Capital Hustle. The two business partners work to help build the brands of low-income or under-served business owners in the District. (Photo credit Joshua Lanier)

WASHINGTON - On Jan. 30, 2014, Emiliano Ruprah made a discovery that still summons a chuckle out of the 30-year-old.

"It turns out, you can actually legally ride a horse -- and a horse and buggy -- anywhere [in D.C.] except on federal and private property," he says. "We actually passed a policeman and he just gave us encouragement."

The District resident did not actually ride the chestnut-colored horse that clopped down the sidewalks of Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase, D.C. He stayed behind a camera while filming what turned out to be the ride of a lifetime for local business owner Ofelio Crespo.

Crespo goes by another name to those in D.C.'s Latino community who have been eating his traditional tamales for the past eight years. To them, the tamalero is known as the Mexican Cowboy.

Crespo makes and delivers sweet and savory tamales -- a traditional Mexican dish of seasoned meat, wrapped in cornmeal dough and steamed in a corn husk -- out of his kitchen in Columbia Heights.

Recently, he decided to expand his tamale delivery business to include demographics outside the Latino population -- a decision based on his changing neighborhood and the rapidly changing city.

That's where Ruprah and his business partner Carlos Martin del Campo of Capital Hustle decided to help.

Ofelio Crespo rides a horse down Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase, NW D.C. (WTOP/Screen Grab)

The two were working to launch a service that helps bring attention to local entrepreneurs who do not have big budgets or an excess of resources.

"There are a lot of entrepreneurs that we take for granted or that don't get the coverage they deserve," says Martin del Campo, also 30.

"They're creating incredible products, they're just outside of the digital landscape; they're maybe not as young or maybe not as wealthy," Ruprah adds.

Capitalizing on the Mexican Cowboy

Both Martin del Campo and Ruprah were born in Mexico and became fast friends while growing up in Northwest, D.C.

After coming and going for years -- through college, jobs and travel -- they've seen their hometown go through major transitions.

"We have this sentimentality for the old D.C. that's kind of disappearing," says Ruprah, who studies film at American University. "We totally did not grow up in the hustle areas of D.C., but we're still part of it … it stays with you."

While working in the international development field in Panama, Martin del Campo realized his passion was rooted in marketing -- "anything communication-based, telling stories," he says.

The long-time friends knew they could combine their interests in marketing, communication and creativity into a way to help people. They just needed someone to help. Luckily for everyone, that someone came to Martin del Campo's door on a cold Saturday afternoon.

Ofelio Crespo makes traditional Mexican tamales in D.C. His commercial with Capital Hustle greatly boosted his business. (WTOP/Screen Grab)

Martin del Campo ordered tamales from Crespo after hearing about the tamalero from the woman who cleans his apartment. He did not hesitate for a second when he discovered he could get three tamales for $6 delivered to his door.

Martin del Campo was impressed with the tamales, which he said reminded him of traditional December meals in Mexico, but was even more impressed with Crespo, the man who made and delivered them.

"When he handed over his business card, I saw it said ‘Mexican Cowboy Tamales' and I thought, ‘Huh. This has a lot of branding potential,'" Martin del Campo says.

While wanting to expand, Crespo was faced with barriers that prevented him from doing so immediately. For starters, he doesn't speak English fluently and is limited in his knowledge of social media and technology.

Ruprah and Martin del Campo offered to create a creative marketing campaign for Crespo, playing off the brand that Crespo already built, himself.

"[His business] is kind of new for us, but it's existed forever in the Latino community … But you would never have thought about it. You had to bridge that kind of gap, and that's one of the things that interests me the most about finding these under-served sectors."

Ruprah and Martin del Campo spent $200 and rented horses from a man who goes by the name of "Cowboy Barry" of Hanover, Md. He brought the horses to Northwest D.C. for two hours. In that time, Ruprah, Martin del Campo, Crespo and Cowboy Barry filmed a commercial-of-sorts for Crespo's business.

"That day to [Crespo], apart from the commercial, he was in like absolute bliss. You saw him get on that horse and he was so comfortable," says Ruprah, who explains that Crespo used to be an actual cowboy in Mexico, but hadn't been on a horse in 30 years. "It was so surreal, you know. Because there was snow on the ground, the video kind of built itself."

Capital Hustle works to build the brands of low-income business owners in the District. (WTOP/Screen Grab)

For the day, Crespo sported a black cowboy hat, a black-and-brown Southwestern- style jacket and black cowboy boots with spurs -- all without suggestion from Ruprah and Martin del Campo.

"The video is not a caricature of Ofelio, you know. I mean, it is kind of funny and we took a funny approach because that sells better. But the costume was absolutely his doing. So we took that and ran with it, but we didn't impose it on him," Ruprah says.

The video was shot in parts of Rock Creek Park (where they were told by a ranger they could not ride, but later persuaded the ranger to let them continue, thanks to sweet-talker Cowboy Barry) and in Chevy Chase, D.C.

"What's the most outrageous place in D.C. we can put this guy on a horse? And so we went to Chevy Chase. It just seemed like an outrage," says Ruprah, who adds that the expressions from bystanders as they watched the cowboy were priceless. "People were gasping at first, completely shocked."

The result from the shoot is a video that has received more than 2,000 views on YouTube, a booming business for Crespo ("He's got too much demand right now," Martin del Campo says) and the start of Capital Hustle, which hopes to help more D.C. businesses in need.

Creating Capital Hustle

The Mexican Cowboy video was the launching pad Ruprah and Martin del Campo needed to kick their business idea into gear. Now, they're planning future projects for Capital Hustle, including a campaign for Eugene Hughes' Midtown Youth Academy -- a boxing center on 14th Street that helps at-risk youth.

Their approach isn't solely the use of capital, technology or social media. Ruprah and Martin del Campo find the best success comes from basic communication.

"I think a lot of people get caught up not realizing they can make an impact though simple actions, like talking to your neighbor," Martin del Campo says. "Even though we use technology as tools, it's not the core of the solution … It's all about connecting."

Martin del Campo says he also hopes to do some work with small businesses downtown that are being overshadowed by larger retailers moving into the area.

"I don't want downtown to turn into a cartoon background," he says.

For now, the business model behind Capital Hustle is pro bono, but the partners are looking into ways to grow their services and turn Capital Hustle into a sustainable business. In other words, they hope to one day make a profit and turn their endeavor into a fulltime job.

One thing they are looking into is using grant money to help businesses. But for now, they will continue to work big ideas into a small budget.

This approach doesn't discourage Ruprah.

"You can muscle your way in there, just with a clever idea," he says. "If you get people pumped on the idea, you can manage a lot with very little."

Watch the Capital Hustle video of Mexican Cowboy Tamales:

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