ADELANTE MUJERES’ PROGRAMS EMPOWER LATINA ENTREPRENEURS WITH OPPORTUNITIES TO START FOOD-BASED BUSINESSES
On a Monday evening, in the kitchen of the Hillsboro Senior Center, Blanca Mejia and her daughter, Rosa, are rolling out empanada dough by hand. Each wears a yellow apron with the words “Rosita’s Bakery” embroidered across the front.
Growing up in Mexico, Blanca Mejia learned how to make empanadas from her parents. But cooking knowledge is not the only thing she is passing down to her daughter. Mejia and Rosa have partnered to start Rosita’s Bakery, catering sweet empanadas, a traditional Mexican dessert.
When 19-year-old Rosa told her mother that she didn’t want to go to college, Mejia decided to start taking classes herself to motivate her daughter. Browsing social media in the early morning hours, she saw an ad for the Cocinemos “Let’s Cook!” class.
Cocinemos is a collaboration between Adelante Mujeres, a non-profit organization providing education and empowerment to marginalized Latina women, and the City of Hillsboro. The 10-week course teaches participants how to run a food-based business. Although the course is designed for Hillsboro residents and Mejia lives in Beaverton, she was able to get permission to register for the class.
Because of the name, Mejia assumed that the course would teach her how to cook. In the first class, she thought she might be in the wrong place when they asked what she would like her business to be. She answered that she hadn’t thought about opening a business. But soon she was learning about licensing fees and how to run a business ,and returning home after each class to tell her whole family what she had learned.
“I was very surprised that they taught the foundation towards being able to start our own business,” Mejia told Opportunity magazine, as Rosa translated. “I was able to realize that I could be more than just a housewife or a mom, and more than just a wife, a sister or a daughter.”
Cocinemos is a collaboration between Adelante Mujeres, a non-profit organization providing education and empowerment to marginalized Latina women, and the City of Hillsboro.
A COMMUNITY SPACE
Along with its many community programs, Adelante Mujeres’ Empresas small business development program provides training, networking, technical assistance and access to capital for budding entrepreneurs. The Empresas Commercial Kitchen and the Food-Based Incubator Program offer financial and technical training specific to food-based businesses.
One of the greatest challenges for food-based entrepreneurs is having access to a commercial kitchen to work in at an affordable cost. In recent years, Adelante Mujeres has worked with the Hillsboro Senior Center to provide space for Empresas program participants to work, but sharing the space has come with logistic challenges.
“With the senior center, we have to be on a schedule with them,” said Javier Urenda, Empresas small business program manager. “We have to figure out what they have open, how late we can be in the kitchen and the process to close and open. And then pick-up time is a little bit of an issue as well.”
In an effort to better serve program participants and the community, Adelante Mujeres recently completed construction on a new commercial kitchen in their Forest Grove building, funded by a $450,000 Community Economic Development grant.
“With our commercial kitchen, we’re going to avoid those situations that we have in a different commercial kitchen,” Urenda said.
The arrangement between Adelante Mujeres and the Hillsboro Senior Center is only open to participants in the Cocinemos and Empresas programs. One of the goals of the new commercial kitchen is also to provide greater access for the whole community.
“The community can call and reserve the commercial kitchen as well,” Urenda said. “What we want to do is be open to the community as well because we know in the community, there is a need for having access to a commercial kitchen.”
Rosa Mejia shows off a sampling of the hand-made empanadas that she and her mother offer through their business, Rosita’s Bakery. PMG PHOTO: EMILY SMOKE
“I come from a family who has been entrepreneurs all their life. When I was young, I had the dream to one day have my own bakery.” ~ Blanca Mejia
WOMEN MOVING FORWARD
In the kitchen of the Hillsboro Senior Center, Mejia and Rosa have to work quickly. They can’t enter the facility until after 5 p.m. and must leave by 9 p.m. They also must share the space with other business owners.
When they are finished baking the orders, Rosa will deliver them directly to the customers. This is already their second batch of orders for the day. Because the business currently makes less than $20,000, it is registered at their home and they can run the bakery from their own kitchen. But the larger space of a commercial kitchen allows them more space to bake multiple trays at a time.
“I come from a family who has been entrepreneurs all their life,” Mejia said. “When I was young, I had the dream to one day have my own bakery.”
But like Mejia, many aspiring entrepreneurs simply don’t know where to start. Public offices that offer help may not always have the patience to explain what to do, said Daniela Ortiz, Empresas coach and training specialist and a mentor for Rosita’s Bakery.
“Or maybe, they’ll send you to one place or another, and everybody’s basically just pushing you forward and not giving you the right answers,” Ortiz said. “This is one of the reasons, specifically, why we do our work. Because a lot of people tend to be discouraging when someone says I want to start a business. One of the things that they hear a lot is you need a lot of money to invest to start a business.”
Empresas seeks to make these resources available to food-based entrepreneurs, from affordable business classes to the new commercial kitchen, which offers entrepreneurs an alternative to renting more expensive spaces.
Mejia finished the Cocinemos course on April 9, 2019. On April 23, she received a call from Urenda, her teacher, asking if she could make an order for 220 people. Surprised, she agreed.
That order became the start of Rosita’s Bakery. Within three months, they were delivering between 300 and 360 12-piece orders each month.
With greater access to kitchen space, Mejia and Rosa hope to be able to continue to grow their new business and to be able to give some of their profits back to provide food and school supplies to children in Mexico and other countries.
“Adelante Mujeres means ‘women moving forward,’ so we’re all about empowering the community,” Ortiz said. “But also, we started off by trying to empower Latina women, and so to see different generations of empowerment in one business, that’s beautiful.”
One of the quotes Ortiz likes to remember is ‘small business, big impact’.
“It is big for them,” she said. “It’s causing a ripple effect. They’re being successful, and we’re watching it happen. And she’s teaching her daughter a lot of lessons. They’re both teaching each other things. It’s just a legacy that they’ll get to pass down.”