A fun yet impactful time was on the menu for the 80 attendees of a May 16 “Latino Small-Business Mixer” held at Don Ramon’s Mexican Restaurante in SoMa. This mixer was part of San Francisco Small Business Week, held each May, with the mixer’s co-hosts MEDA, Excelsior Action Group, La Cocina, Hispanic Chambers of Commerce of San Francisco, Invest in Neighborhoods San Francisco and Calle 24 Latino Cultural District.
After some mingling to reconnect or connect anew, it was time to literally get down to business via an event program focusing on policy issues. William Ortiz-Cartagena, a member of the San Francisco Small Business Commission and president of MEDA’s Board, emceed the event.
The first topic was sanctuary workplaces, of which Don Ramon’s is one, as evidenced by their “A place at the table for everyone” poster adorning the eatery’s wall. Nati Ramirez, part of a trio of sisters who run the family-owned business, was the sole sibling born in United States after their parents crossed the border in search of a better life back in 1955. Ramirez spoke of the need to protect undocumented workers, the backbone of the nation’s economy. She and other San Francisco small-business owners have been rising to the recent national challenges faced by immigrants, Ramirez even venturing to the capital to advocate for passage of AB450, the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, which would make California a sanctuary state and thwart raids on undocumented employees.
The second policy matter open for discourse was organizing to stem gentrification issues for Latino small businesses in the Mission. Commercial Corridor Manager Moisés Garcia of Calle 24 spoke on this topic; Calle 24 is the Latino Cultural District created and protected by passage of a measure by the Board of Supervisors last March. Having such a district means a set of overlay zoning regulations are put into effect as a means to slow down or prevent displacement of small businesses (e.g., preventing a commercial-property owner from combining spaces).
It was then time to honor three Latino-owned small businesses that are thriving, and bettering their community. Awardees each got a plaque, as follows:
- Innovative Latino Business of the Year presented by Google to Artillery A.G., a Mission Street venture owned by artists Ivan Lopez and Alexa Treviño. Their enterprise was chosen by the host committee because Artillery A.G. pivoted its business model from primarily being a retail space to becoming a more interactive space for the sale of Latino art and the showcasing of the community’s cultural riches.
- Latino Legacy Business of the Year presented by JPMorgan Chase & Co. to Navarro’s Martial Arts Academy & Gym, the business owned by Carlos and Rubie Navarro and operating in the Mission for over four decades. Threatened with eviction, Excelsior Action Group stepped in and recently helped this business find a new location on that neighborhood’s Geneva Avenue. Navarro’s received monies from the Legacy Business Preservation Fund, a San Francisco grant program which incentivizes landlords to rent to legacy businesses.
- Latino Small-Business Community Leader of the Year presented by Bank of America to L’s Caffé, the 24th Street business owned by Gabriella Lozano, a Calle 24 founding member who leads its Economic Vitality Committee. Lozano spearheaded the effort to establish commercial regulations for the district; plus she operates the first certified green business in the Latino Cultural District.
The aforementioned honors were each coupled with a certificate of recognition handed out by Genesis Garcia of Assemblymember David Chiu’s office.
The event ended with a bit more socializing, with many attendees stopping by resource tables offering information from the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, an organization that has been at the vanguard of pushing for sanctuary workplaces in San Francisco, and Bay Area newcomer Start Small Think Big, which offers financial and legal advice to low-to moderate-income entrepreneurs.
It took a dedicated community effort to make an event like this a success. MEDA was honored to be part of making that happen at the “Latino Small-Business Mixer.”