Latina Entrepreneur Finds the American Dream with Rita’s

This Latina Turns Adversity into Opportunity with Rita's Franchise

From Single Mother to Top Franchisee, Hilda Alfano Exemplifies How Female Entrepreneurs Foster Inclusive, Successful Businesses

Hilda Alfano was 17 when she left her native Puerto Rico seeking a better life for herself and her young son in New Jersey. She taught herself English, worked at various jobs including 15 years as an office manager, and always kept an eye on the future.

Over the last two decades as a Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard franchise owner in Woodbridge, N.J., Alfano has not only created opportunities for her own family, but also for the employees who became her second family.

Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard franchise owner Hilda Alfano
Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard franchise owner Hilda Alfano

“The most rewarding moments in my franchise ownership have nothing to do with money, awards or accolades,” says Alfano, a top performer in Rita’s system. “They have to do with my incredible staff and the relationships that have begun within my store. Most of my staff members have been here for 10, 15 and even 20 years.”

The Female Advantage in Business

In cultivating these positive relationships, Alfano exemplifies traits cited in recent research that contribute to women being more effective than men as business leaders. Women score significantly higher in their ability to connect with, relate to, mentor and develop others, and in demonstrating their care for their community, according to research by Leadership Circle. “In today’s business environment, this acts as a superpower,” said Cindy Adams, Leadership Circle president and CLO, in an interview with Forbes.

Women also are more likely to lead from a creative mindset and “play for all to win,” focusing on the future they’re creating and partnering with people who will work toward that vision, Adams said. Men may lead this way, but are just as likely to lead from a “play not to lose” orientation, she said.

Positive Culture Boosts the Bottom Line

Alfano attributes her employees’ longevity to a positive culture. “Happy staff equals happy guests, which in turn equates to a better more successful business,” she says.

Maintaining the culture starts with making the right hires, Alfano says, and she models the work ethic she expects. “From Day 1, I am hands-on with my staff. I do the training and set the example. You can’t expect your staff to work a certain way without leading by example and showing them how to get the job done right.”

Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard franchise business

Alfano maintains open lines of communication with her staff and immediately addresses issues that might lead to negativity. She also trains for resiliency and resourcefulness. “Every day is different. So many things can go wrong,” she says. “By building a strong staff that is also resilient helps during those situations, where not all the issues have to be solved just by you. Set your team up with the best practices to handle adversities to help keep things running without a hitch.”

Women Business Owners Drive the Economy

As a women business owner, Alfano is a member of an impressive cohort. According to a recent Wells Fargo report, women-owned businesses:

  • Comprise 39.1% of all U.S. businesses.
  • Employ 2.2 million workers.
  • And generate $2.7 trillion in revenue.

In addition, between 2019 and 2023, the number of women-owned businesses increased at nearly double the rate of those owned by men; and from 2022 to 2023, the rate of growth increased to 4.5 times, according to the report.

The statistics are also impressive for Latina business owners, whose enterprises comprise more than a quarter of all Latinx-owned businesses, according to a Stanford School of Business report. White women, by comparison, own around one-fifth of white-owned businesses, the report shows.

Keeping an Eye on Opportunities

Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard franchise business

Now in more than 30 states, Rita’s was founded in 1984 by Philadelphia firefighter Bob Tumolo, who began serving Italian ice from his front porch. Even with such a longstanding brand, it’s important to stay fresh and innovative, Alfano says.

“I approach each season with the mindset of what can I do to stay top of mind, interesting and relevant,” she says. “Whether its contests, fun giveaways or events, there’s always a way to make your business more enjoyable and rewarding for your guests,” she says.

Community involvement also helps. “People want to support those that support others. Giving freely without constraints or expectations also helps associate a positivity with your business which is contagious, and it attracts people,” she says.

“Complacency is the start to the end of a business. If you’re not putting effort or time into building and expanding your business, then your guests will see this and over time start to lose interest.” For more information, please visit

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Lisa Ocker’s career began at her hometown paper, The Baytown Sun, covering everything from city government to chemical plant disasters, a hurricane and a controversial FEMA buyout of a flood-plagued neighborhood. From there, she moved to South Florida, reporting for the Palm Beach Post and South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspapers, and serving as editor of the regional magazine, Boca Raton. Returning to her home state, she led the re-launch of SUCCESS magazine as editor after a Texas-based entrepreneur bought the 100-year-old brand.

Lisa’s work also has appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Newsweek. She has covered major news events including the space shuttle Challenger explosion and the rape trial and acquittal of William Kennedy Smith, nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Edward Kennedy. Her coverage of immigration issues included reporting on Haitian and Cuban refugee crises while traveling with the U.S. Coast Guard and from the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Her work with SUCCESS included profiles of entrepreneurs Steve Case, Ted Turner and the late Tony Hsieh.

Now living in and working from Santa Fe, NM, Lisa enjoys sharing the challenges and successes of franchisees and franchisors as a contributor to FranchiseWire and Franchise Consultant Magazine.
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