Small businesses usually wait until they’re profitable before they try to do good. But Mamacitas Cafe, a local restaurant in Oakland, Calif., incorporated social responsibility into their DNA from the start.
“The model is really our core mission. The whole reason for starting the business was to create jobs and leadership opportunities for young women in the community,” Shana, one of the co-founders, shared. “That will always be a constant in how we prioritize business decisions.”
To build a loyal customer base, Mamacitas based their messaging around their community impact. Their outreach and social media posts capture the passion that the owners, Shana, Simone and Renee, have for teaching Oakland’s young women. You can find positive hashtags such as #WomenOwned and #Sisterhood accompanying almost every picture of their signature dishes, honing in on the message that businesses can, and should, be responsible for the neighborhoods that they inhabit.
And the mission-driven advertisements aren’t just for show. Customers can feel the supportive energy when they come into the space. When asked about their clientele, Simone says, “People come initially, [because] they’ve heard about us and our mission, but they come back because people can tell that we’re close and we’re a sisterhood and we respect one another and all women. And yeah, our food is also really good, which totally helps.”
It’s been 3 years since Mamacitas opened their doors to the Oakland community and while their commitment to creating positive change has remained consistent, their business has gone through several phases.
Mamacitas transformed from a pop-up shop to a brick-and-mortar cafe and has scaled from making donuts on a portable propane burner to using a commercial fryer. They took out a Kiva loan in 2015 and were quickly powered by 142 lenders to grow their business. Shana learned about Kiva after receiving a $25 Kiva Card, which she’s reinvested over and over. Shana has now been a lender for over 10 years, but it wasn’t until she heard about Kiva U.S. loans from other Oakland organizations, however, that Mamacitas made the jump to become a Kiva borrower.
“Kiva is a really radical model because, in many ways, it’s circumventing the banking system, which is one of the largest hurdles for small businesses, securing the seed money that they need to get on their feet. It was a pretty easy sell for us because we haven’t really qualified for traditional bank loans but we needed the money to grow our business. It was the 0% interest and that it was coming from our own community that was really in line with our own values.”
In addition to the physical changes, the Kiva loan also helped Mamacitas upgrade their women-empowerment program to more effectively reach and teach the young women who work with them. Their storefront allowed them to provide more trainings on confidence and leadership skills to the young women. This includes holistic healing practices, like yoga and self-defense courses, and frank conversations about inequality in society to support them against the deep systemic issues in Oakland.
Currently, Mamacitas is again hoping to expand to a larger space. In reality, a single $10,000 loan won’t be the only achievement a small business in the U.S. needs to scale over the years. Growing a business is a slow process and entrepreneurs need continued support and dedication for their dream to work. Still, this is a challenge that the Mamacitas, Shana, Simone and Renee, are happy to tackle in order to continue uplifting the young women in their community.
“There’s so much our young people are having to overcome and bear witness to...and we really want to create a home for people to stabilize and heal and find their own voice and their own vision for themselves.”
Learn more information about Mamacitas and their expansion on their Facebook page, here.
Kayla received her B.A. in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of Puget Sound. She has volunteered with a wide variety of animals from cats at her local shelter, sea turtles in Costa Rica, and elephants at the Oakland Zoo. Kayla hopes to pursue a career that supports animal welfare issues through community empowerment and education. She is excited to join Kiva to learn about international development from a non-profit viewpoint.