Nonprofits and business groups help Latin American businesses hit hard by pandemic

PHOENIX – The walls of Salvadoreño Restaurant # 3 north of Phoenix catch your eye: shades of orange, blue and green – like the feathers of a tropical bird. The scene depicts women serving pupusas in the streets of El Salvador.

Then there is the aroma of pupusas – corn dough stuffed and fried with beef, chicken, cheese, beans, bacon, pepperoni or vegetables. They are the national dish of El Salvador and the specialty of the restaurant chain.

The owners of Restaurant Salvadoreño had a clear mission when they opened their doors in 2002.

“There aren’t a lot of Salvadoran restaurants in the Arizona community,” said Yesenia Ramirez, co-owner of the family chain. “There weren’t a lot of options for our culture, our country.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the company had grown to five restaurants in Arizona, one in California and another in the current valley, according to its website. But during the pandemic, homeowners struggled to keep their doors open.

“One of the biggest challenges at the start was having to be quick, you know, and reacting to change immediately,” said Ramirez.

Latino-owned businesses were particularly affected during the COVID-19 pandemic, but received less federal aid than other businesses, according to a May 2020 national survey conducted by Latino Decisions for Move-On, Somos and UnidosUS . At the time, hundreds of local Latino-owned businesses had applied for the federal paycheck protection program, but only a small portion received relief, Tanairi Ochoa-Martinez, director of Fuerza Local, told Cronkite News.

The Small Business Administration Led Program loans to businesses affected by COVID -19 closures, with the possibility that loans could be canceled if the money was used to keep workers on the payroll during the pandemic, according to the article.

To help close this gap, nonprofits stepped in during the pandemic to help these small businesses while federal programs did not. The Raza Development Fund, in partnership with Wells Fargo, launched the COVID-19 Hope Fund to help small businesses. Fuerza Local (Local First Arizona) provided various Arizona small business relief grants, including a total of $ 2 million distributed to low to moderate income small business owners households.

Companies and companies groups also participated. The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce offered resources and developed grants for small businesses. And PepsiCo launched Juntos Crecemos, to provide grants, mentorship and coaching to 150 Hispanic small businesses across the country.

As a result of the pandemic, 86% of Latino business owners reported significant negative impacts, and 65% said they would not be able to continue their business beyond six months under current conditions, according to a 2020 Stanford University survey of 224 companies.

Announcing the program, CD Glin, vice president of the PepsiCo Foundation and global head of corporate philanthropy, said Hispanic communities are part of the fabric of American culture, but have long faced challenges. “Systemic barriers to success – a divide that has only deepened by the impact of COVID-19.” “

The Salvadoreño restaurant is one of the beneficiaries of PepsiCo.

Ramirez said they were facing financial hardship due to COVID-19 restrictions at limited state restaurants in the spring of 2020. The owners calculated the restaurant had lost 30 to 40 percent of sales over the course of of the first months of the pandemic.

Take-out has become the only viable option to keep the business afloat, but the shortage of plastic containers and rising prices for kitchen supplies have stretched the restaurant.

It has been more than a year and a half since the start of the pandemic and some regulations have loosened. Ramirez said sales are better, although many customers still prefer go out. Part of the courses Ramirez learned the importance of a strong social media presence for a small business.

Angie Amarillas, senior director of small business development at the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, declared online presence for Hispanics businesses only grow. A recent survey of chamber members indicated that 26% of Arizona’s Hispanic-owned businesses are creating and improving their social media presence, she said, adding, “This is really huge.”

Many Hispanic business owners, such as Ramirez, have realized the importance of maintaining a strong social media presence.

“This consistency definitely reminds people that we are here, that we serve this amazing food,” Ramirez said. “And it brings them in, it also keeps them up to date with what’s going on.” “

As COVID-19 outbreaks persist in Arizona, Ramirez said restaurant Salvadoreño prioritizes everyone safe. “We do our best to make sure our customers are as safe as possible. The staff wear their masks. They’ve all been vaccinated, ”Ramirez said.

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