September 15, 2015

Incubator finds right recipe for Hispanic entrepreneurs

Tamales and other tasty entrees are available at Mixteca PDX, a mobile eatery at Portland Mercado (a successful Latin microbusiness center in Oregon).

Nota del editor:  También está disponible una versión en español de esta historia.

Alejandrina Felipe Asuncion smiles as she and her mother Paula fix tamales and other tasty entrees for the crowd of people who flock to her family’s food cart. Alejandrina remembers when they worked side by side years ago picking fruit and vegetables in Oregon fields.

Now their family business — Mixteca PDX — is a popular destination eatery in Portland Mercado, a microbusiness incubator for immigrant entrepreneurs. It fulfills her late father’s hopes when he prepared the way for the family to come to Oregon decades ago, says Alejandrina, its marketing director, who is also a registered nurse.

“My dad had a dream for us to start our life in the United States,” she says. “We named the business in honor of my father’s indigenous language, Mixteco, one of the many languages spoken in Oaxaca, Mexico. That’s our history, our language, and our heritage.”

The business, like many in Portland, adds the city’s “PDX” nickname, which is also the abbreviation for its international airport.

Mixteca’s new home — Portland Mercado — is the brainchild of Hacienda CDC, a Latino community development nonprofit, supported by Wells Fargo since the mid-’90s. Most recently, Hacienda received a $50,000 grant from the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation’s Priority Markets program. The nonprofit helps low-income families with affordable housing, youth programs, and homeownership classes, as well as training classes for Mercado tenants.

“I want to give a special thanks to Hacienda,” says Paula Asuncion, who also owns and operates Mixteca Catering. “They’re here to support us, give us courage, and to give us the workshops we need so we can be successful with our business.”

Wells Fargo has provided approximately $5 million over the past year alone to support several Hacienda projects, including Portland Mercado’s new location, which opened six months ago. The company invested in the Portland Mercado through the purchase of New Markets Tax Credits provided by Enhanced Capital and Raza Development Fund. The federal New Markets Tax Credit Program gives tax credits for investments to support economic development in distressed communities.

The program is a win-win for everyone, says Greg Richter, a relationship manager for Wells Fargo’s Community Lending and Investment Group who worked directly with Hacienda on the projects.

These deals “have a [positive] community impact and create jobs,” he says, “and the tax credits make it economically feasible for us to continue making this type of investment.”

Portland Mercado has attracted nearly 20 small businesses as full-time tenants, says Nathan Teske, Hacienda’s economic development director. Many of the full-time tenants are among the 30 food trucks and other businesses that rent its Micro Mercantes Kitchen for food prep, he says.

Nathan says the idea came out of Hacienda’s long-time support of food vendors who worked the thriving farmers market circuit in Portland. Many of them wanted a location where they could sell all year-round, he says.

“The vision for the Portland Mercado was to give small business owners, who were primarily immigrant entrepreneurs, the opportunity to start in an affordable space and build their business,” Nathan says. “Stores like Paula’s and Mixteca Catering really are the reasons for the work we do.”

Alejandrina says her mother led the family through tough times after her father died from cancer in Oaxaca, Mexico. Widowed at age 34 with six children, her mother reached out to relatives in the U.S., worked nonstop to move the family here, and parlayed her cooking skills into a full-time business.

“My mom taught us the value of work, the value of not giving up — that owning a business is something that can happen to anyone,” Alejandrina says.

Paula says her vision is not complete yet: “The dream for my business is to have a huge restaurant, here and in other countries, too,” she says.