Supporting Small Business Ecosystems in Fresno

California FreshWorks is an ecosystem of service providers and practitioners, including a network of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), that invest capital into projects and businesses that increase access to healthy food, cultivate local economic power, and support leadership development. Typically when capital is discussed by financial institutions, it is in the context of financial tools and products. As administrators of FreshWorks, Community Vision looks more holistically at multiple forms of capital and how they contribute to the strength and success of community-based organizations and small businesses. For example, navigational capital is the ability to navigate through and access systems, institutions, and geographic regions that hold resources and power.

Community Vision leverages navigational capital for healthy food entrepreneurs throughout California. In the Fresno region, we’ve supported healthy food access projects through FreshWorks, and facilitated relationship-building, networking, and investing in community-driven initiatives. In 2018, we began working with Miriam Martinez, Founder and Owner of La Jacka Mobile. One of her long-term goals was to acquire a facility to expand her market reach and provide long-term stability for her business.

Founded in 2016, La Jacka Mobile is a Fresno-based food business that specializes in preparing jackfruit as a meat substitute in Mexican dishes. Miriam grew up in Nayarit, Mexico cooking the jackfruit that her family farmed and processed. She emigrated to the U.S. to realize her dream of creating a market for Jackfruit distribution by crafting delicious and healthy Mexican recipes. Miriam is deeply committed to the health of her community and created La Jacka Mobile because she desired to see affordable, nutritious, and culturally relevant foods available in Latino Neighborhoods. La Jacka Mobile has sold a variety of traditional recipes at swap meets, neighborhood parties, and community events throughout the Central Valley, creating a market for Miriam’s jackfruit products.

Miriam Martinez, Owner & Founder of La Jacka Mobile
La Jacka Mobile serving vegan Mexican food

It often takes several years for a small business to build up its capacity to purchase or lease a facility. Entrepreneurs of color, immigrants, and people whose first language is not English often experience additional roadblocks that white entrepreneurs do not. For example, a lack of services in appropriate languages, perceptions that a business or community is too risky to invest in, and financial products that do not meet the needs or circumstances of a business. Further, the racial wealth gap in the U.S. means that entrepreneurs of color are less likely to have family and friends who have the risk capital or “run way capital” required to start a business. Miriam faced many of these barriers herself as she established La Jacka Mobile and worked to grow the business.

FreshWorks bridges these types of barriers with services created to build wealth and address racial and economic equity. FreshWorks offers a technical assistance (TA) grant program that covers pre-development and capacity building services needed to ensure success of a client, and in turn mitigate risk of an investment. FreshWorks also connects entrepreneurs with local professionals in their area. La Jacka was awarded a pre-development TA grant in 2018, which connected Miriam with Cultiva La Salud (Cultiva) for marketing and business development services. Cultiva is a Central Valley-based nonprofit founded in 2005 that promotes healthy living environments and offers leadership opportunities for Valley residents. Genoveva Islas, Founder and Director of Cultiva, was born and raised in Fresno and has worked many years to advance equity in the food and farming systems throughout the Central Valley and California. Cultiva La Salud was in fact one of the first FreshWorks grant recipients when the program was first established.

Both La Jacka and Cultiva were members of a commissary kitchen located just south of downtown Fresno at 504 Belmont Avenue. Cultiva has been a key partner of the kitchen facility, including securing financial resources for general operations and creating a mobile food vendor program. Shortly after La Jacka became a member, the kitchen business was being sold by the owners, Food Commons Fresno, another FreshWorks grantee. With few resources of this kind in the region, Food Commons Fresno understood the importance of the facility remaining locally-owned and made available to community minded entrepreneurs. They wanted to ensure that this intention was maintained, which is why they approached Miriam with an offer to purchase the kitchen in the Fall of 2019.

In order to purchase and operate the kitchen, Miriam needed guidance. Despite many efforts to identify support, the agencies she turned to were unable to fully support Miriam with Spanish language guidance and services. FreshWorks partnered with Leticia Corona, the Central California Regional Lead Advisor from the Office of the Small Business Advocate (CalOSBA), within the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. Together, they were able to navigate Miriam to a Spanish speaking business strategist, Nydia Cardenas, to develop a business model for kitchen operations while continuing to operate Jacka Mobile prepared foods, and ensure a FreshWorks grant for Nydia’s services. In June 2020, La Jacka received a $46,157 FreshWorks loan to acquire the lease and kitchen equipment to operate the kitchen, now known as The Hot Spot Kitchen.

“Our work with La Jacka Mobile really exemplifies the importance of the FreshWorks ecosystem. We work hard to ensure we support an interconnected movement toward a community owned equitable and sustainable food system.

– Esperanza Pallana, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Community Vision and Administrator of FreshWorks

La Jacka preparing food at The Hot Spot Kitchen

As operator of the facility, Miriam prioritizes programming for immigrant and refugee women-owned and run businesses. From her personal experience, she knows there is a need for welcoming and supportive spaces that are created for and by immigrant women. The Hot Spot Kitchen is 1,900 square feet and will serve truck and cart mobile food vendors, caterers, and Cottage Food Operators. Miriam has also been working with the Pan Valley Institute, a popular education center located in Fresno that serves primarily immigrant communities throughout the Central Valley. As part of another FreshWorks supported project, Pan Valley identified kitchen space with a culturally sensitive lens as a high need and high impact resource for the food entrepreneurs they work with.

“Being able to operate this kitchen and offer space to other food vendors is a major accomplishment not only for La Jacka, but for the families in our community. It ensures that existing tenants can grow here and opens up more opportunities for immigrant entrepreneurs here in Fresno.”

– Miriam Martinez, Owner & Founder of La Jacka Mobile

As a CDFI that focuses on racial and economic equity, the strength of Community Vision and FreshWorks is in bridging barriers being experienced by community leaders. We provide appropriate forms of capital and create continuity through challenging times. It’s always a great achievement when a business acquires a facility that will enhance their operations and impact. La Jacka’s business expansion is invaluable for the community efforts in Fresno who are cultivating a healthy and equitable food system and economy.

Follow La Jacka on instagram for pictures of their delicious plant based Mexican food and to stay up to date on where you can purchase their food. Check out La Jacka’s website to learn more about their story.

Miriam and Nydia are featured in Episode 3 of Community Vision’s six-part podcast series, “The Food Future is Here“. You can listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on our website. This episode is in Spanish.