Monetta White dreamed of bringing barbecue back to the Fillmore District of San Francisco after a 25-year absence. Taddesse Haile dreamed of continuing his family’s tradition of working in the restaurant industry and bringing Eritrean and Ethiopian food to his new San Francisco neighborhood.
Though White and Haile both encountered challenges while working to open their restaurants, they said they were able to accomplish their dreams because of the support they received from Working Solutions, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that provides San Francisco Bay Area-business owners — especially low-income individuals, women, and minorities — with capital and resources to start their businesses.
White and her husband, David Lawrence, received a $50,000 loan from Working Solutions, as well as assistance with their business plan, projections, and marketing, to open their restaurant, Black Bark BBQ. “One of my favorite things about Working Solutions is they didn’t just give us money and run away,” White said. “They gave us money and checked in monthly, helping us to put together a plan to open two or three more locations.”
Haile received a $10,000 loan from Working Solutions to renovate and furnish space to open his restaurant, Oasis Cafe. Working Solutions also reviewed his lease and helped Haile develop marketing and business plans. When Haile was ready to expand the restaurant, he received a $45,000 loan from Working Solutions. “I don’t see them as just a lender,” Haile said. “I see them as good associates that helped me to hire more people. They’ve changed my life.”
Supporting small businesses
Wells Fargo announced in September 2017 that it will provide a $250,000 grant to Working Solutions so it can continue helping small-business owners like White and Haile. The grant is part of the Wells Fargo Works for Small Business®: Diverse Community Capital program. The three-year program, which launched in November 2015, will award $50 million in lending capital and $25 million in grants to CDFIs — helping the CDFIs provide diverse-owned small businesses access to capital, technical assistance, business planning, and other resources.
“Working Solutions is excited to invest in the dreams of diverse entrepreneurs in the East Bay with this generous support from Wells Fargo,” said Emily Gasner, CEO of Working Solutions. “The Diverse Community Capital program will enable us to increase the number of low-cost microloans and expand our signature consulting to startup and emerging businesses to create local jobs and thriving communities.”
Wells Fargo will also provide a $350,000 grant and a $2 million investment to Opportunity Fund, a CDFI that provides microloans for small-business owners and microsavings accounts to help families pay for college.
“Over 85 percent of the businesses we lend to are minority-owned businesses, while about a third are founded by women,” said Luz Urrutia, CEO of Opportunity Fund. “Most ‘Opportunity Funded’ ventures are owned by immigrants, and many are LGBTQ-owned businesses. What the entrepreneurs we back have in common is that they have the resolve — but not the resources — to get ahead. With Wells Fargo’s support, Opportunity Fund will be able to continue on a path to invest $400 million by 2020 so that we can say ‘yes’ to the dreams of over 9,000 small-business owners.”
Greg Morgan, Wells Fargo San Francisco region bank president, said, “Supporting the development and growth of small businesses is very important to us at Wells Fargo. We are glad to provide capital to Opportunity Fund and Working Solutions, so they can help entrepreneurs put their business plans into action and build better lives for their families.”
‘Don't give up’
White and Haile are continuing to live out their dreams and expand their businesses. Black Bark BBQ currently has 13 full- and part-time employees, and White hopes to open another location and start selling her products online in the near future, she said.
According to Haile, Oasis Cafe has eight part-time employees and business continues to grow. There will always be challenges that aspiring small-business owners might face, he said, like getting capital and having good credit. He added that they should not limit themselves, and should instead look for groups like Working Solutions that can help. “If you believe in what you’re doing, if you believe in your business plan, if you believe in your ability to run a business, don’t give up,” Haile said.