Budding entrepreneurs Zenaida Merlin (photo, left) and Luis Estrada (photo, right), immigrants from Central America, came to MEDA five years ago to make their idea for a small business a reality. The couple knew that the Mission community would quickly acquire a taste for the food of their homeland. After all, nobody pooh-poohs a pupusa – a hearty, handmade corn tortilla, filled with different blends, that is the signature dish of El Salvador. Same for tasty tortas, chicken dishes, carne asada and the like, all with healthy ingredients and an additional dash of gourmet flair.
The first step was for Zenaida and Luis to sign up for MEDA’s free Business Development workshop. Over seven weeks, they learned everything from how to negotiate a commercial lease and keep books to marketing strategies and bettering one’s own finances. This was followed by personalized coaching and help from other community partners.
The result? A successful catering business and food truck began to bear fruit, with tech companies and attendees of private parties all enjoying this affable couple’s innovative menu. This was the meal ticket to support the family, which includes a son, Mateo.
All was good … but there was one more thing to be done.
Opening a restaurant space in the Mission
Zenaida and Luis’ goal was always to complement their catering and food truck business with a restaurant space where all would feel welcome.
That’s where MEDA came in, again.
At the grand opening, Rodriguez was clearly elated at his clients’ success, explaining, “I am overjoyed to see this hardworking husband-and-wife team take their catering business to the next level. Being able to open a restaurant in 2016 in the Mission takes dedication. MEDA is glad to have been here to help make this happen.”
MEDA also made this happen by offering capital. It was last Christmas Eve that Zenaida and Luis received one impactful holiday gift when they signed on the dotted line for their $80,000 Adelante Fund loan. This much-needed money was used to remodel the space to meet their new restaurant’s needs. An elegant and functional venue has been created, now featuring a gleaming restaurant space and a patio for those warm Mission afternoons.
Stated Adelante Fund Business Lending Manager Diana Matei-Golopenta, “I am so pleased that D’Maize Restaurant received an Adelante Fund loan – at better rates and terms than they could find elsewhere – so that their business could start out where it needed to be, and so that jobs could be generated.”
A big thanks goes to the owners of the space, who operated Casa Sanchez restaurant for many years in this popular location. The Sanchez family rented the venue to Zenaida and Luis at a rate much lower than market price, choosing culture over cash.
D’Maize Restaurant exemplifies the strategy of building community capital in the Mission via small-business development coaching coupled with community loans. That is why Luis, grinning from ear to ear, thankfully exclaimed, “¡Todos ustedes son parte de la familia de D’Maize!” (“You are all part of the D’Maize family!”)
Felicidades, Zenaida and Luis. Look for them at San Francisco Carnaval May 28 to 29, as they will be honored as the featured business at this event. Well deserved.