Home In America Westchester Hispanic business owners gain a Hudson Valley ally on road to success

Hispanic business owners gain a Hudson Valley ally on road to success

taco factory pattern for progress
Juan Avalos operates the tortilla-making machine at his Middletown restaurant, The Taco Factory. Photo by Aleesia Forni

Many new businesses and budding entrepreneurs face challenges when attempting to launch their new companies, from cash flow issues to attracting and retaining customers. But those problems can prove even more difficult to overcome for Hispanic or Latino-owned businesses.

Just ask Juan Avalos, a Mexican immigrant who owns restaurant and tortilla-making enterprise, The Taco Factory, in downtown Middletown.

Avalos and his family started their business more than a decade ago after they imported a tortilla-making machine from Mexico. What started as a modest establishment at 40 North St. that supplied tortillas for many restaurants in the Orange County community soon expanded to become an eat-in and take-out restaurant.

The business, however, fell on hard times nearly six years later.

“The business took off very well, but the challenge was when my dad left in 2012 and I discovered financial turmoil in the family,” Avalos said of his father’s desertion. “My dad had gotten me into debt without my knowledge.”

At the time, Avalos found it difficult to find resources that would help lift his family out of their financial rut.

“I had some financial issues that really held me back,” he said. “It was really hard to get out of that.”

These issues are particularly challenging for Hispanic or Latino entrepreneurs, according to Emily Hamilton, deputy director of the Center For Housing Solutions and Urban Initiatives with Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress.
“These are business owners who do not feel comfortable taking out loans,” she said, “and many do not have the credit history to take out a loan.”

Language barriers can also prevent Hispanic or Latino business owners from accessing financing.
“Many lending institutions do not have Spanish speaking staff,” Hamilton said. “The majority of the technical assistance available is not available in Spanish.”

In Avalos’ case, his fluency in English helped him through the process of opening and expanding his own business. But that is an advantage that many other immigrant business owners lack.

“Oftentimes, it’s very difficult for Hispanic members of the community that want to open a business to go through the process of obtaining a permit,” Avalos said. “If you want to obtain a permit, everything is in English. Like my parents, for example, when they came from Mexico, they would not have been able to read that because their English was not up to that level of proficiency.”

To address the long list of issues facing this population, Pattern for Progress has embarked on a mission to connect Hispanic and Latino business owners like Avalos to information, resources and funding.

“If you see something as a barrier, then it will be a barrier, but if you see it as a bump in the road, then you just shake it off and you keep on going,” said Avalos, who began working with Pattern for Progress after the organization was suggested to him by Middletown city officials. “I think there are people that need that push, and it’s Pattern for Progress that helps them do that.”

The organization also aims to help Hispanic and Latino entrepreneurs integrate into the existing business community.

“Some Hispanic business owners kind of close themselves off and see other businesses as a competitor, and we’re not,” Avalos said. “We’re all connected.”

“I think we’re trying to move away from the mindset of ‘it’s me,’” he added. “It’s not just me. It’s us.”

Hamilton said one way for these businesses to overcome that problem is by joining a local chamber of commerce, though that process can be daunting. “Unfortunately, the membership cost to join the county’s chamber of commerce is high,” she said. “It is hard for Hispanic business owners to find time to go to the meetings, and language can be a barrier.”

Those issues are compounded for any entrepreneurs who may be undocumented, Hamilton said. “There are very little resources available for undocumented business owners.”

The nonprofit’s efforts are part of its Urban Action Agenda, a three-year initiative aimed at revitalizing 25 urban centers throughout the Hudson Valley. According to the organization, the Hispanic population in those communities, which include Yonkers, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, White Plains and Peekskill, rose 50 percent from 2000 to 2015, to 198,361 residents.

“The ultimate goal is to grow and enhance the economic potential of Hispanic and Latino businesses as an integral component of our local economies,” said Jonathan Drapkin, president and CEO of Pattern for Progress. A key initiative, he said, is identifying obstacles and barriers that new strategies can help overcome.

Pattern for Progress has joined forces with Community Capital of New York, a nonprofit alternative lender based in Elmsford. The two organizations will develop a strategic plan to ease the difficulties Hispanic and Latino business owners may have when launching their new companies.

They have held community engagement sessions with Hispanic and Latino business owners across the Hudson Valley, from Liberty to Brewster. Some have been held at Avalos’ Taco Factory. He has also gone door-to-door with Pattern for Progress representatives, inviting business owners to join the informational sessions.

Conducted in Spanish, the sessions have a dual purpose, Hamilton said. Not only do they serve as a way for the organizations to learn about the challenges these businesses face, they also allow Pattern for Progress to expose business owners to existing resources available to them.

Hamilton said the ultimate goal is to create a roadmap for aspiring entrepreneurs to establish or expand their businesses. The agency also plans to publish a resource guide that includes a business directory in both English and Spanish.

“Our goal, once we complete the outreach and the strategic plan, is to seek additional resources to provide additional capital, technical assistance and expand to other communities in the Hudson Valley,” she said.

Despite the ongoing, everyday struggles of entrepreneurship, Avalos said business is strong at The Taco Factory and that years of hard work have helped repair his family’s finances. The company recently secured a liquor license for the restaurant and is working to construct a bar area at the rear of the eatery.

While he refuses to consider himself a success, Avalos does feel a duty to help others who may be in situations similar to those he has faced.

“I want to give back, because I know people might not see things the way I see them. It’s easier to give up. The hurdles that the Hispanic community go through just make you want to stop. It makes you want to stop improving, stop integrating,” he said.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve felt like that before. But I’ve said, ‘I’ve got to keep fighting.’”

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