Helping California small business owners make a way during the pandemic
Through its Open for Business Fund and the Paycheck Protection Program, Wells Fargo is continuing to support small businesses in California with the capital and resources they need to make a way to stay open, day after day.
Editor's note: A version of this story also appeared in the ‘We made a way. Together.’ campaign.
The past 12 months have proven the resiliency and resolve of 30 million small businesses across the U.S. as they make a way to stay open day after day. Wells Fargo recognizes the importance of America’s small businesses — for local communities and the broader national economy — and the company continues to provide them with access to the capital and resources they need to weather the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wells Fargo created the Open for Business Fund in July 2020, donating roughly $420 million to help small businesses recover and rebuild. The Open for Business Fund supports community development financial institutions, or CDFIs, and other nonprofits that provide needed capital, technical support, and long-term resiliency programs for small businesses, including racially and ethnically diverse owners who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
In California, Wells Fargo has provided nearly $5 billion in Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, loans to small businesses, representing almost 582,911 jobs. Through April 14, 2021, more than 85% of these loans have gone to businesses with fewer than 10 employees. The company supported numerous other small businesses through its Open for Business grant funding to California-based nonprofits. Here are just a few of the Los Angeles-based small businesses Wells Fargo has reached through these programs.
Creating a ‘virtual dance world’ during a crisis
After a grant allowed Debbie Allen to be the first Black student at the Houston Ballet Foundation, leading to a successful career as a producer, director, choreographer, author, dancer, and actor, she established the Debbie Allen Dance Academy to make a difference.
The nonprofit offers comprehensive dance curriculum to students ages 4 and up and provides scholarships for at least 70% of its students, as well as free community service demonstrations and programs for older adults, cancer patients and survivors, victims of domestic violence, and others around the world. But it relies on donations, Allen said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the nonprofit couldn’t host its programs or concerts, and there were concerns about paying the bills and salaries. Staff from the dance academy applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan through Wells Fargo, where the nonprofit has banked for more than a decade. The $172,500 loan was approved, helping the organization cover payroll and salaries and to host a Virtual Summer Intensive, becoming a “virtual dance world,” Allen said, and allowing students from around the world to attend dance programs and train from their homes.
“It was so worth every moment it took to be approved and to get such a loan at a time of crisis,” Allen said. “Had we not had it, I don’t think we would’ve been able to be successful this summer, so it was a blessing. I thank Wells Fargo beyond measure for the support and help.”
Combining resources to provide meals to people in need
As he worked in his family’s restaurant while growing up, Greg Dulan realized his passion for food and community. He attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., to study business and returned to his home city of Los Angeles with the idea of working in his family’s restaurant business. Two years later, he decided to open his own restaurant on Crenshaw Boulevard, and so Dulan’s Soul Food Restaurant was born more than 30 years ago.
Dulan and his business partner opened Hotville Chicken, with Nashville-style hot chicken, just before the pandemic. When the pandemic began, both restaurants’ sales dropped 70%, but Dulan combined the resources of Dulan’s Soul Food Restaurant and Hotville Chicken — and even worked with a local councilman and the mayor of Los Angeles to provide meals to seniors in need in their community.
As part of World Central Kitchen, and by using his skills and experience doing school lunches as a caterer, Dulan was able to pivot to providing meals to frontline workers and people in shelters, at churches, and others in need.
As one of the early loan recipients of Pacific Coast Regional Corporation’s People of Color Business Elevation Fund, which is supported by Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund, Dulan received financing for a second food truck and support to keep his businesses going. Dulan has used both trucks for outdoor events and to provide food to people in the community. On one occasion, the business distributed more than 1,500 meals to families in need in a single night.
“During that time, it wasn’t just about the money,” Dulan said. “It was providing a service to our city.”
Los 3 Pollos keeps pleasing palates amid the pandemic
Efrain Mejorada Jr. and his family credits their Wells Fargo banker Mario Murillo’s financial guidance and advice with helping them start their first Mexican restaurant, Los 3 Pollos, in 2009; grow the concept to three restaurants in California; and add payment processing technology, cash-flow management, and other support to keep Los 3 Pollos going amid COVID-19.
“Mario has been that person and Wells Fargo that bank for us,” said Mejorada Jr., who runs the Gardena location. “It’s more than just business — we’re family. We would not be where we are today without him.”
Whether it’s getting change for one of his restaurants during the coin shortage, creating credit card accounts for each location to pay vendors, or sharing how the latest digital technology can advance their business, Efrain Mejorada Sr. said Murillo delivers.
“I know he will give me good customer service and advice and not sell me something I don’t need,” Mejorada Sr. said.
Mejorada Sr. is proud of his three sons, who each run one of the locations, and the family business — and he believes Los 3 Pollos will emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever. Although COVID-19 has reduced profits and required changes in the kitchen and other operations for safety, Mejorada Jr. said the pandemic hasn’t dented Los 3 Pollos’ outlook as one of an estimated 5 million Latino-owned U.S. businesses, according to Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative’s fourth annual survey of Latino business owners.
“To me, family is the most important thing, and I’ve always wanted to make my parents proud,” Mejorada Jr. said. “My dad raised us to work hard for what we have, dream big, and be optimistic about our future.”
Pivoting to work with clients across the globe
Kasey Phillips grew up with a passion for Caribbean music. After establishing his first recording studio in his home country of Trinidad and Tobago, he looked for a new opportunity in Los Angeles, but the owner of Precision Productions faced challenges launching a studio there.
After five years of business development, Phillips was ready to begin breaking ground on Crystal Room Studio when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. “It messed up our financing since business projections were based on pre-pandemic plans,” he said.
Due to pandemic restrictions, the construction of the studio was delayed, since it was challenging to find a contractor who could commit to a set time frame. The arrival of equipment and other tools was also impacted by the global pause on manufacturing and trade.
Fortunately, Phillips learned from Pacific Coast Regional Corporation about an opportunity to apply for a small business loan. Thanks to a grant from Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund, Pacific Coast Regional Corporation was able to assist Phillips with his bills and payroll.
Through this tumultuous time, Phillips never gave up, and he pivoted from solely being a rental studio to a hybrid in-person and digital studio, allowing him to streamline clients’ revisions and have ongoing collaboration. He now is working with clients all across the globe with mixing, editing, and mastering music.
Phillips believes that he will slowly begin to see his business grow by taking the right safety precautions and marketing his in-person studio rental and digital music opportunities.
“I’m thankful to Wells Fargo and PCR for their support,” Phillips said.