There’s a new wave of entrepreneurs ready to take the Denver metro-area by storm.
Nine Northeast Denver residents recently graduated from the Montbello Organizing Committee’s first Building Wealth from Within program, bringing the participants a big step closer to creating and establishing their small businesses.
“We contacted people in the community, recruiting in churches and things like that,” said Maria Alcocer, the program coordinator. “To find people that either had a business or wanted to start a business but didn’t know basic business startup plans. The courses were advanced for some of our participants … but when they felt stuck, we reminded them that they were doing this for their next generation. Not just for them. For their kids and their kids. And they did it!”
And that’s the purpose of the program. MOC is a neighborhood group that focuses on food justice and housing. Their other big focus is community wealth building, hence the Building Wealth from Within program.
The 12-week program is geared towards helping residents grow their entrepreneurial skills. Through those skills, they can establish themselves as business owners and have something to pass down as generational wealth. Their businesses would also add to the neighborhood’s local economy, creating more jobs and revenue that would flow back into the area.
It’s wealth all around through localized economic development.
“It’s about development without displacement,” said Donna Garnett, the executive director of MOC. “We’re looking at providing all types of training and entrepreneurial support to folks in our community.
“Our mission is to address issues that are identified by the community and that includes economic development.”
This was the first run through of the program. Alcocer said this go-around the focus was on Spanish-speakers and most of the participants were women.
Throughout, Alcocer said she brought in other local business owners to both encourage participants and to let them know that this wouldn’t be an easy endeavor. She spoke about her own struggles running a food truck, La Cocina de Nana, and she brought in Noe Bermudez, owner of Tarasco’s on Federal Boulevard and Kahlo’s on Morrison Road.
Alcocer said Bermudez told residents about his growth from being a dishwasher to now owning two successful restaurants. But he also told them about financial troubles and staff shortages.
“I wanted them to hear the other side of it. Before you’re able to actually enjoy anything, you go through a lot.”
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom chats. Alcocer said representatives from the Denver Public Library taught participants research skills, so they can understand their market and learn about their competition. Community Enterprise Development Services, or CEDS Finance, also spoke with participants about small business loans and provided course material on financial literacy.
“We have entrepreneurs left and right in our community, especially Montbello, but they don’t have the tools to be able to complete their dreams,” Alcocer said. “Now they do and the next step is for them to implement their skills.”
Out of the nine participants, four created non-food related businesses. There’s Maricruz Herrera who runs a vending machine company that specializes in stocking culturally relevant products depending on the neighborhood. Jesus Nunez runs Fences Nunez. He has eight years of experience working on fences, decks, patios and pergolas. And there’s Rosario Mendoza who wants to offer training courses to up and coming child care providers.
On the food side, Jessica Flores, Lupita Mancera and Martha Valdivia each own Mexican eateries focusing on seafood, catering and tortas, respectively. America Saucedo decorates and creates cakes.
Lilian Dias runs El Sabor Catracho, which serves up authentic Honduran food.
Dias learned about the program through a different family program run by MOC. She grew up in Honduras, cooking traditional dishes with her mother, including pupusas, baleada, chicken feet and enchiladas Hondureñas, which is a tostada with ground beef, cabbage and Honduran cheese.
Dias said there aren’t many Honduran restaurants in Denver and she’s looking to share her traditions with others.
“I enjoy sharing my culture,” Dias said, speaking to Alcocer in Spanish. “Little by little I’m just trying to share more. I have the opportunity to give Denverites a taste of Honduras.”
Prior to the program, Dias would host parties showcasing her cooking skills. Once she made 200 empanadas for her daughters’ birthday party (they’re twins) and in minutes, they were gone. After that, she took orders through social media, cooking several dishes, plating them up and delivering them around the neighborhood.
Her children get in on the action as well, especially her son, making the dough for the pupusas and flattening them out.
“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time but I didn’t know how,” Dias said. “Now I know where to get a permit, how to find commissary kitchens. My goal is to have a food truck by next year. I’m really proud that my kids could be able to continue this. My mom had a food business and now I’m starting it here. It’s not about writing down recipes, it’s about their involvement. My kids are already remembering the recipes in their heart.”
When we spoke to Dias, she said she was quitting her job to focus on El Sabor Catracho. Ultimately Dias said she wants restaurants all over town so “people can learn more about Honduran cuisine.”
Now Dias is working on the technical portion of her business, which includes registering her business, getting an employer identification number and finalizing a menu. Once all that is done, she can apply for a small business loan and get her truck.
The same goes for the other participants. All the participants earned a business certificate and now they can move on to the technical assistance aspect. MOC will still be there to assist them with that process as well, providing computers, more encouraging speakers and overall support
Alcocer said the next program will start approximately after Labor Day. She said the program will be in English this time around and have 10 participants.
Alcocer is moving back to El Paso, Texas but she’ll be working with MOC until at least the end of the year. Although she’s leaving, she still hopes the entrepreneurs in Montbello and Denver continue to thrive.
“When this started, we had so many goals in mind and we’re achieving them,” Alcocer said. “My hope is that the program continues to grow and we continue to encourage local entrepreneurs to take the next step. I hope that the people graduating can be an example to other people in the community. We want to put the graduates’ pictures up on a wall and hopefully that wall becomes filled with pictures.