|Bailando to their Own Beat|
How Richy Pena and Jody Mendoza became Boston's Latino Power Couple
Jody Mendoza and Richy Pena have each made their mark as successful business people and creative entrepreneurs within Boston and beyond. Jody is the consummate hands-on owner of the popular Mojitos Lounge and dance club in downtown Boston. Richy is a top music producer, last year winning a Latin Grammy for producing Chino y Nacho's hit album "Mi Nina Bonita."
However, it's the partnership that truly defines this proudly Latino power couple. The duo not only manages busy lifestyles, which often intertwine, but they are also the proud parents of a young son, Richy Jr. with another child on the way. It seems fitting that these on-the-go entrepreneurs would initially meet online - long before Facebook.
"We met on Myspace," Richy said during an interview in their former apartment above Mojitos, which now serves as an office for their business ventures. "I was living in New York at the time. We used to talk about music, and the club, and life in general and, after months of going back and forth and writing to each other, something just clicked online."
"We started having an engaging conversation and we got to know each other," Jody added. "It's rare that you meet someone that you share so much in common with, like what we shared and continue to share."
At the time, Pena was working in New York City, making the rounds, trying to make connections and find work in the competitive music world. Between meetings and networking in the Big Apple, Pena would periodically visit Boston.
"During one of those trips when I came back to Boston, Jody and I arranged to get together and meet each other in person and we went out for a date, and it was a nice date."
"It was a fun date," Mendoza added with a smile sitting across from Pena at a small circular table in their modest former kitchen.
Eventually, both Mendoza and Pena realized their common interests extended beyond a budding romance and into the business world.
"In Spring of 2005, I was a full-time grad student getting my MBA at Boston University," Mendoza explained, "[Former business partner] Eric Liriano told me about an idea he had for a new Latin music nightspot. Next thing, I wrote a business plan and we opened up [Mojitos] just a few short months later. It was really a whirlwind."
Mendoza says the business and personal collaboration between her and Pena were two very separate entities at the beginning, despite sharing interests connected to the entertainment world.
"We started having some very minor collaborations together to sort of test the waters and to make sure that we worked well together," Mendoza said.
The couple's initial smaller joint business ventures ultimately led to one of their largest endeavors, the Boston Music Conference (BMC).
"The idea for the BMC came about because, while I was in New York, I went to a lot of music conferences and aside from the fact that they were very informative, We wanted to try and bring that same kind of opportunity to Boston," Pena said, "... without having to leave for New York like I did."
"If you think you're serious about pursuing a career in the music industry, at this conference you can find out if you truly are interested," Mendoza continued, "because you're going to find out about the obstacles that you have to face and not just think about all the glamour and the potential piles of money."
In the meantime, Pena's music ventures continued to become more successful. Ultimately, Pena was signed by Warner/Chappell Music, a career boost that helped the now married couple to make a major professional dream come true for both, but especially for Mendoza.
"After Richy signed with Warner/Chappell, he received a large advance which allowed us to buy out Eric and own the club ourselves," Mendoza said.
"It's Jody's club," Pena added, "I'm owner only by association. Mojitos is her dream."
Indeed, Mendoza is Boston's only Latina owner, operator and manager of a major nightspot. As owner, Mendoza wears more hats in her position than one might expect.
"I do just about about anything that needs to be done," Mendoza said, "Though, the aspects that interest me the most may be the marketing and creative side of things, that doesn't mean I'm not also responsible for dealing with a dreary pile of bills and all sorts of other boring things that come with running a business as well."
Mendoza's daily juggling act includes thinking of new marketing strategies for the club, looking over the weekend numbers, working with graphic designers on ever changing promotional flyers, booking parties, making sure that the club is well decorated and overseeing a staff of as many 50 people at any given time. While Mendoza runs the club, Richy works in his recording studio creating award winning music for a variety of top and up-and-coming Latin musicians. However, reaching his current level of success was a long and winding road.
"I knocked on a lot of doors while I was in New York, and eventually, after knocking on so many doors, somebody has to open one for you", Pena said. "I met a guy who managed a producer named Nely 'El Arma Secreta,' and at that time he was a Grammy nominated producer who had numerous hits under his belt for some of the biggest artists including Daddy Yankee, Don Omar and others."
Eventually, Pena teamed up with Venezuelan Reggaeton duo, Chino y Nacho, with whom he'd worked with before. This time, Pena was asked to produce the singers newest album, "Mi Nina Bonita."
A whirlwind week-long collaboration in 2008-2009 produced a full album and a song that won the trio of musicians a Latin Grammy.
"Chino and Nacho were already the best in Venezuela, but no one knew about them here," Mendoz explained, "[Richy] got them a major label deal. Their song, 'Nina Bonita' became the major Latin hit of the summer."
Mendoza and Pena are not only proud of their work on its own merits, but also of the contribution it makes to Boston's Latino community and beyond.
"We, as Latinos, feel a great sense of responsibility to give a higher level of quality and a means of entertaining our fans and patrons at the club," Pena said, "In my case, with my music, I give everything I do one hundred percent attention because I want to make sure anything that comes out of my studio sounds amazing. The same thing goes for the club. Jody wants to make sure Mojitos is up to par and up to the same quality as anything else in the city, if not above it."
"I'm very proud of the fact that when you walk into Mojitos, you'll see people of every background," Mendoza said, "I think that's a great compliment because it shows Latino culture, Latino music and the energy truly fascinates and entertains everyone."
So how does this dynamic couple maintain a growing family amid their many responsibilities? One quickly realizes that it's only possible because Mendoza and Pena are rock solid in their support of one another.
"I couldn't do this with anyone else but Richy," Mendoza said. "We are able to rely on each other and feed off of each other. We understand enough about what the other's work entails that it helps us help each other. At the same time, we are both extreme workaholics so we can remind each other when we need to step back."