NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- In the years before Maribel Lieberman left Honduras for the United States, her mother pleaded for her to ditch dreams of architecture school.
Learning English and aspiring to be a bilingual secretary was more realistic, she told her.
The girl took her mother's advice, attended secretarial school and left for New Orleans in 1980. She was 17 at the time.
Lieberman's tourist visa soon became a student visa, and she turned a secretarial job for a Colombian urologist into a sales position at a Japanese cosmetic company.
Fast forward to the late 1990s, and she was married to a Belgian art dealer in New York City. She enjoyed cooking and entertaining guests, and that inspired her to create a catering company.
With that enterprise, Lieberman said she served high-profile clients like then-president Bill Clinton and the late American diplomat Richard Holbrooke. When customers fell in love with her chocolate truffles, she decided to start a shop dedicated entirely to those sweets.
She designed treats, imported them from France and launched MarieBelle New York. In 2004, she stopped importing and built her own factory nearby, where she now employs 23 people.
Her obsession with natural flavors started when she was a little girl in Jutiquile, a village of 1,000 located deep in the Honduran mountains. Her mother was the town seamstress and her father the only telegraph operator.
As a girl she was known as "Caramel" for the sugary and buttery candies she sold to classmates for one cent a piece.
"Everything was very natural, and I attribute the palate I have today to the way I grew up," she said. "I've always been an entrepreneur, I just didn't know it."
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