Starting a Food Business in Panama City

In the heart of Panama City, surrounded by gleaming new high-rises and the buzz of a modern capital city, New Yorker Litha Wilson feels at home.

“It’s a lot like New York City,” she says. “I call it the city that almost never sleeps. I love to go dancing, especially when there’s a good reggae event in the historical district. I can get groceries or a shawarma 24 hours a day. And while some restaurants can be expensive, I’ve been to many places that are oh-my-goodness cheap.”

Panama’s capital is a modern city on the bay, with impressive infrastructure, top-notch cell service, and high-speed internet throughout. The city offers everything Litha needs to live comfortably and run her growing hot sauce business. And, it’s close to beaches with sugar-soft, white sand—like something out of a dream.

“I just relax completely at the beach,” says Litha. “Just hearing the waves takes my heartbeat down.”

When not enjoying her free time on the beach, Litha is busy at work in the city’s popular San Francisco district. Along with her mother, she embarked on a new venture, making and selling hot pepper sauce. The hot sauce is made using her grandmother’s recipe, and Litha has gotten markets all over town to carry it.

“It’s easy to network here since there are so many events happening—lots of them free. I find out about them on social media,” says Litha. “I started going to all kinds of Panama City events and I met a lot of people.”

Once her hot sauce started to take off, Litha’s new connections asked her what else she could make. Soon she was catering Caribbean-style meals and looking for a commercial space with a kitchen. These days she’s even exporting small quantities of her sauce. “I love it,” says Litha. “I’m an entrepreneur now.”

Most importantly, Litha is loving her life in a warm, cosmopolitan capital by the sea. “Panama is the place to be,” says Litha. “Whether you’re looking to start a business or just discover something new. I don’t even leave for vacations anymore…I have discovered the merits of the ‘stay-cation.'”

On a trip to the Caribbean islands of Guna Yala—just a 15-minute flight from Panama City—Litha was stunned. The white-sand beaches were pristine, with not a single resort or high-rise to mar their natural beauty. “If you’ve never been, you are doing yourself a disservice,” she says.

She’s also visited the Bocas del Toro archipelago (just an hour’s flight from Panama City) and the beaches of the Colón province, less than three hours away by car. “The Caribbean beaches there are amazing,” she says. “You can see your feet in the water. But we have the best of both worlds here, with both Pacific and Caribbean beaches nearby.”

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