Jose Mendoza, FiestaBowls

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FiestaBowls photo

Innovation and persistence to reach its small business goals were the navigation tools that kept a San Francisco venture afloat during the pandemic.

FiestaBowls, located between 18th and 19th streets, is an example of the tenacity of the Mission’s business community. In challenging times, this community found ways to carry on in the pursuit of their dreams. This year, the Mexican snack business was one of the initial recipients of a loan from the Racial Equity Lens (REL) fund. Fondo Adelante, MEDA’s Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), led the design and implementation of this innovative loan fund. This initiative focuses on low-interest loans for BIPOC-owned small businesses.

“The idea behind the Racial Equity Lens Loan Program is to support our businesses in the neighborhood with strong relationships with the community, and that may not qualify for an affordable business loan through other financial institutions,” says Pablo Solares, Director of Fondo Adelante at MEDA. “We charge between 7% and 9% in interest in contrast to the over 20% charged by credit cards.”

Innovating to survive

The story of FiestaBowls began three months before authorities ordered public health closures in spring 2020. Like most businesses, owner José Mendoza and his brother then had to close for two months. On their “soft” return, they had to resort to their inventiveness and work capacity to remain open.

“We lived for months without any money coming in for us,” says José. “Everything (income) was going to pay bills, food, rent … but the goal was for the business to continue.”

As the COVID-19 emergency faded in San Francisco, FiestaBowls’ owners began adding new items to their menu. They finally had the opportunity to meet their clientele and adapt to meet their needs.

We invested in a bell extractor to sell hot food, which was one of the reasons we were interested in a loan to invest more in the business.

The village steps in to help

As part of the requirements to obtain the REL loan, FiestaBowls’ owners received technical assistance from MEDA’s Business Development team. They attended the six-week information sessions alongside other San Francisco merchants.

“Many of them [the merchants] gave examples of what worked and didn’t work, especially around their ideas on how to attract new customers,” explains José. “We are always learning, with an open mind. There are people who may not want to hear opinions on how to operate their business, but we believe that any opinion helps us.”

Today, FiestaBowls showcases an innovative business with a selection of products recognized by multiple generations of residents. Along with FiestaBowls now thriving, these enterprising entrepreneurs this year opened El Rey Taquiza Artesanal. This new business is also on Mission Street, located between 21st and 22nd streets.

“FiestaBowls is a business that has been very involved in the Mission District since it started just before COVID-19,” says Pablo. “They have been part of our MEDA family through multiple programs and marketing initiatives, their products maintain our neighborhood’s cultural identity and Jose (the owner) is invested in growing as a successful business owner through our business coaching workshops.”