Program helps residents succeed with food-based business
"I have been in many places that say they have Mexican food, but it's not really the flavors that I expect," said Jorge Burgoa, a Hillsboro resident originally from Mexico City.
Burgoa has been in the United States for more than 30 years. He loves to cook and dreams of one day opening up his own Mexican restaurant, he said.
"That's my goal, just to show you guys the real Mexican food ... homemade, from scratch," Burgoa said.
What may have seemed a far-fetched goal for him may be close to becoming a reality. Burgoa is currently enrolled in the "Cocinemos" course hosted by Adelante Mujeres, a nonprofit organization based out of Forest Grove with a stated mission to "educate and empower low-income Latina women and families in the state of Oregon."
Adelante Mujeres offers a general small business course, which teaches best business practices for people from a wide variety of industries. However, administrators saw a trend among those participants.
"There is a high need and interest in food-based businesses," said Andrea Chunga-Celis, grants coordinator for Adelante Mujeres.
The City of Hillsboro wanted to create a program that would focus specifically on food-based entrepreneurship in Hillsboro, "Cocinemos." With funding from the city, Adelante Mujeres began offering the program last year.
"Here at the Cocinemos class, our goal is for those (interested in) food-based businesses to get the access to a commercial kitchen, to get access to knowledge, to get access to resources in the community as well," said empresas small business manager Javier Urenda.
Offered once per year for 10 weeks, the course brings around 15 participants together for two hours every week to learn what it takes to successfully run a food-based business.
Last year was the pilot year for the Cocinemos program, the name of which translates from Spanish as "let's cook."
Participants hear from both Urenda and various professionals in the industry to learn the business side, how to store food, how to co-pack, the requirements to sell a product, how to become licensed and much more, Urenda said.
The program tries to set up these entrepreneurs for success as best they can. One way of doing this is by covering the costs of booth space for participants to cook and sell their food at the Saturday markets in Beaverton, Aloha and Hillsboro during market season, Urenda said. They call the participants "booth incubators."
"We subsidize the cost of the booth for the season, but they learn how to apply for it and go through the whole process," Urenda said. "They learn all these things, and then next year, they are able to do it by themselves, and we are able to put a new person in these booth incubators."
In this current course, every participant is either a resident of Hillsboro or has a business in Hillsboro, Urenda said.
While many course participants are working toward opening a business, some already own one and are just looking for some extra guidance.
"It's amazing. They help a lot with things we need, so we practice, and if something goes wrong, they help me to fix it," said small business owner Lucia Silva.
For the past eight months, Silva and her husband, Jose, have owned La Mixteca Oaxaca restaurant, located in the back of Su Casa Super Mercado, 1050 S.E. Walnut St. in Hillsboro, she said. They are taking the course together.
"I need that kind of help. They support small businesses like us to be good and to do better and better and better," she said.
Silva has been in the United States for 17 years, but she continues to serve the family recipes she grew up eating in her home state of Oaxaca. Her love for the unique cuisine of the Southwestern Mexican state inspired the restaurant, she said.
"The people like it. They think it's good," Silva said.
Without community partnerships, Urenda said the program wouldn't be possible.
The cities of Hillsboro and Forest Grove have provided support for the program, Urenda said, allowing the participants to rent out their senior centers' kitchens and have offered training from staff at the facilities.
"Without a kitchen, the participants wouldn't be able to sell their products," Urenda said. "We are here offering all these opportunities for them, as well as access to capital."
Through KIVA and Individual Development Account (IDA), the participants can also sign up for a three-to-one matching savings account and apply for a loan with no interest and no fees, Urenda said.
Though the communities have been helpful in providing the space, Adelante Mujeres is hoping to have its own commercial kitchen in the near future, Urenda said.
Once Burgoa finishes the course, he plans to continue working with Urenda and staff to get started on his business, he said.
"They have the connections to buy equipment and everything that we need for the business," Burgoa said.
With his goal becoming more realistic, he hopes to open up a restaurant in Hillsboro.
"That's my wish," Burgoa said, "I'm open to any other locations, any other cities, but in Hillsboro, (there is) a lot of Mexican population here, a lot of Hispanic people that know about Mexican food, and I know they like it. ... I know how the food should taste in Mexico."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to note the role the City of Hillsboro played in starting and funding the program.
By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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