Adrian Bota, came to Cleveland as a refugee from Romania at the age of 7. He is the founder and owner of Piccadilly Artisan Yogurt, Piccadilly Artisan Creamery and A2 Guernsey- cow milk products.


Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Romania in a town called Constanta.

What was it like growing up?

I grew up in the 80’s in communist Romania. It was one of the worst communist regime; there was no freedom of speech or press, everything was under government control. It got so bad that my dad decided for us to leave. In 1989, my father with 5 children left Romania to cross the border illegally in the middle of the night. We made it to the Hungarian Refugee Camp but we tried to leave, and were caught sneaking into Austria. My entire family had to spend a few nights in jail and then we returned to the refugee camp once released. One the second try, we almost made it but we were almost caught so we returned. On the third attempt, we made it to Austria.

What was it like living in the Refugee Camp?

The Hungarian Camp was rough. There were a lot of people and the conditions were bad. We were eating ramen noodles for most meals. There was a lot of tension so it wasn’t the ideal situation. The Austrian Refugee Camp was different. There was separate housing for families, and well-managed buildings with schooling. There was a lot of fear in Hungary, but I was too young to process that fear. Things got much better in Austria.

What brought you to Cleveland?

We came to Cleveland in 1991 technically under family reunification, however we originally applied and were granted leave under Political and Religious Asylum. Cleveland was a big place for Romanians especially because of manufacturing and the robust religious community here. At the time that we arrived, there was and still is a very strong Romanian Baptist church here that helps many refugees.

What were your first thoughts about coming to America?

Growing up, Romania had few airports but you wouldn’t see airplanes flying around. My image of American came from my grandfather. If he saw an airplane he would say, “Maybe it’s the Americans, they are coming to rescue us.” So my thoughts were that Americans would come and overthrow our dictator. As a kid I had no idea what America was or where it was, but it was perceived as a great liberator. I just hoped Americans would come and free us. I only knew what other people said it was, and that was the Promise Land. It was a great place and you wanted to get here. The education was fantastic and you could buy things you can’t buy in Romania. I didn’t know what freedom was but I knew it was in America.

Did your perception change once you arrived?

Once I arrived my perception only got better. America was everything I didn’t know it could be. It was great; I’ve never had any bad thoughts or regrets. I went to not great schools and lived in not great neighborhoods but every step was better. I was always looking forward to the next great opportunity.

What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here?

I didn’t face many challenges. It wasn’t tough for me, but it was tough for my dad. My dad had two books, an American grammar book and a Romanian American Dictionary that he read and taught himself English for the year and a half we spent in the refugee camps. He was very ambitious. It was harder for him because heleft everything behind and had to learn something completely different. As a child I was in English as Second Language (ESL) I could also take my test with friends. They only issue I had was adjusting to the culture- I had no idea what the pop culture references were. I didn’t know Mr. Rogers or Adrian from Rocky. Unlike the Syrian and other refugees today, we didn’t have social media so we had to learn everything once we were here.

What traditions or customs from Romania do you continue to practice?

We don’t celebrate specific Romanian holidays – but we are really big on carrying on our culture in our food, language and religion. English is easy for my children but I want them to speak Romanian as well. We are very involved at our Romanian church here, and the services are in Romanian. Through our church ministries we stay connected to what’s going on in Romania, and help disenfranchised people who have no support system.

What led you to become an entrepreneur and open a business in Cleveland?

You couldn’t own a private enterprise in Romania. My dad saw the opportunity here and became a real estate agent. He spoke Romanian, Hungarian, some Russian, and American so he was really in tune with the ethnic communities and decided to start his own brokerage. He had much success because he was extremely personable and he passed that to me. After college at the University of Akron, I went to work in New York. When I decided I wanted to start a family my wife and I decided to move back to Cleveland. We moved back because of family and because Cleveland was a better place to raise a family. I was working for Cleveland Clinic when my brother had the idea to buy a franchise frozen yogurt business. I wanted to open something different, something innovative and something in urban Cleveland.

What do you love about Cleveland?

What I love about Cleveland, especially as an entrepreneur and a refugee is the support system! I didn’t know anything about starting a business but I found help. The entrepreneurs locally, have created groups to help each other. Everyone is so supportive of one another, even people you are in competition with come along and help you. It’s he same way with the immigrant community. People in Cleveland have their hands out to help in any way shape or form. Everyone wants to help others succeed. It’s really great.

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

Cleveland has an amazing heritage of historically being open to immigrants. Many people here have a Polish, German or Eastern European background and they’ve been here for generations. Immigrants just feel good here and feel welcomed; it’s a streamlined process.

What is your favorite thing to do in Cleveland?

Going out to eat with my family- its all about food in Chinatown or hanging out at Cleveland Flee and eating from food trucks. I enjoy spending time in the Metroparks, and going out on the lake. I also enjoy the community events like the shaker market on Saturday mornings or the Garlic Festival I love those things! Simply talking to other Clevelanders- and enjoying the food and community!

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

Immigrants are hungry for the opportunity to come here and take advantage of everything we have to offer. They come in hungry to make things happen- and Americans benefit from that. Immigrants see opportunities that American’s don’t because they grew up here, they don’t understand they aren’t taking advantage of all this country has to offer. Immigrants bring a fresh pair of eyes. We can benefit from their brain gain- and we should be glad to gain from the best and brightest. We should give immigrants the opportunity to contribute. Immigrants have so many great things to offer from their mind, to their experiences and their culture.

In regards to business, you are the founder and owner of Piccadilly Artisan Yogurt, Piccadilly Artisan Creamery and A2 Guernsey cow-milk products. What makes your Origin Milk unique?

One of the reasons that I jumped at the opportunity to launch Origin was because I could really taste the distinct flavor of this milk and it reminded me of the fresh-from-the-cow milk I had as a child on my grandparents farm in Romania. I thought that if the milk had a distinct flavor to me, then it would also be noticeably different to customers, and that served as one of the catalysts to really get me thinking about what we could do. Origin a2 Guernsey milk harkens back to how milk used to be before natural and human intervention caused cows to develop a1 protein in their milk. Since all mammal milk is originally a2, including human milk, Origin milk offers an experience that is close to the milk that humans are supposed to have. With its natural golden color and amazing nutritional benefits, Origin milk is the way milk should look, taste and be enjoyed- as nature originally intended. 

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