Featured Entrepreneur

A New Authentic Arab Bakery in Oakland: Kickstarter Campaign

Reem Assil is a recent alumn of our Entrepreneur Readiness Program and she is the real deal when it comes to Arab street food. She hella loves her homeland and we love her back for sharing it with us in the Bay Area.

Up until now, Reem's has been catering and serving at farmer's markets, but she is now ready to open up her dream brick-and-mortar Arab bakery, right here, in Oakland!

We are creating a restaurant and home to connect people across cultures & generations through the warmth of Arab bread and hospitality
— Reem Assil

Please Support Reem's Kickstarter Campaign

Reem's combines the distinctive flavors, aromas, and techniques of the modern Arab street corner bakery with the freshness of California cuisine, made with love!

Reem is also a finalist at the Open for Business contest by OpenTable, so she must out-fund her fellow finalists and secure a minimum of $35,000 in order to receive an additional $15,000 from OpenTable. 

With as little as $10, $25 or $50, we can help her get there and bring a space of connection and Arab food to town!

Supporting a 50-year Family Tradition: Food with Integrity and Love

  Nellie and her father, Chris Stokeld.

Nellie and her father, Chris Stokeld.

We're extremely excited to rally support for Nellie Stokeld from The Pie Shop. Her family has produced handcrafted, savory British pub fare and tea-themed treats in Oakland, Ca for decades. A couple of years ago, Nellie completed Centro's advanced entrepreneurship training program and she is now carrying the tradition of the Stokeld family business with great craft and pride. 

Please help us support Nellie by lending her $25 or more through Kiva.org.

  The Stokeld's at a 2013 pop-up in Oakland, CA.

The Stokeld's at a 2013 pop-up in Oakland, CA.

The Pie Shop | Authentic British Pies, Pasties, Teas & Treats

The Pie Shop is a second generation offering from the Stokeld family beginning with Chris Stokeld, an immigrant hailing from North Yorkshire in England. Fifty years later, the emphasis of our shop is still on whole food, made with integrity and served with love.

Purpose of the loan: To hire a new employee, purchase new equipment, and improve online retail services.

***Current status: loan fully funded.


WANT A LOAN TO LAUNCH OR GROW YOUR SMALL BUSINESS?

If you’d like to start or grow a small business with a free loan, download Centro's Business Planning App on your phone. Once all the activities in the app are completed, request Centro's endorsement for a Kiva loan right there on the app.

We are Kiva's top 10 Trustee for 2015 and we'd love to help you!

New Pilates Studio Launched by Centro Entrepreneur, Ayanna Makalani

We’re excited to share the official opening of HEAL Pilates Studio, a brand new pilates studio in Albany, California led by Ayanna Makalani, a young and very talented Centro entrepreneur who started her journey with us by simply downloading our Business Planning App in the summer of 2014!

I heard about Centro from a dear friend that was an MBA advisor for the Entrepreneurship Readiness Program. Centro helped me gain confidence, vision, and prepare a workable business plan. They connected me with many great resources that helped me in securing my space and opening my doors. Now that my business is open, I feel empowered, and look forward to a future with financial stability.
— Ayanna Makalani

Ayanna joined Centro's advanced training for small business entrepreneurs in the fall of 2015. Shortly after, she applied and received a loan from Working Solutions, and in June 2015, she was also funding a $10,000 loan on Kiva Zip with Centro as her community trustee! Five months later, her pilates studio became a reality.

 

More about HEAL Pilates Studio

HEAL Pilates Studio offers reformer classes for small groups of up to four people and specialized private instruction where quality of movement is valued over quantity of repetitions. Our services are therapeutic, accessible, and tailored to the needs of the individual client.

We believe that the key to our success is focusing on personal improvement, client trust, appreciation, and creating a community that is accepting and empowering.

 

Call today and take advantage of their intro special:

3 private sessions for $180!

 

More About Ayanna

Ayanna is a passionate, form-based instructor that treats her classes like workshops. She believes that there is always something new and deeper that one can discover from their Pilates practice, and it's this type of training that creates body awareness, heals, and yields results

Ayanna holds a B.A. in Theater from UCLA, and is a certified instructor on Mat and Apparatus through BASI-Body Arts and Science International. Along with knee and hip rehabilitation, she also specializes in fitness and full-body toning.

 

Say Goodbye to the Monday Blues

“If I do my job right, everyone will love going to work on Monday!” says Madelyn Mackie, a Centro entrepreneur and owner of Madelyn Mackie & Associates, a career and professional development training and coaching company. She trains clients on vital career skills and presents motivational keynotes at associations and conferences around the country.

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After three successful careers spanning the chemistry lab, a national nonprofit, and Tony Award® winning theaters, Madelyn formally launched Madelyn Mackie & Associates in 2011. As a successful business woman and born leader driven by compassion, she found that her business was a natural fit for her abilities and interests.

And, as someone with incredible self-motivation, she wanted to push her business to the next level. She found it through Centro’s Entrepreneur Readiness Program: “My advisors pushed me and asked the hard questions. But they also supported me every step of the way.”

The ERP provided a way for Madelyn to reflect, analyze, and focus on developing a strong foundation for her business. “Centro took me from concept to implementation so that I can provide the best service to my clients,” she says.

Madelyn’s business has been open for three years. She has helped clients secure positions with Fortune 500 companies, reputable tech firms, health care agencies, and nonprofit organizations all over the country.

She tells us, “Every single day, I am making a difference in my community – helping people take care of themselves, their families and their future.”

Russian Baker Cooks Up Big Dreams in San Francisco

Before coming to California, Anna Tvelova would stare at the map on the wall of her bedroom in Russia and daydream of big cities with more opportunities. Driven by these ambitions, Anna came to San Francisco with $1,000 in her pocket. She spent the first several months here learning English, but it wasn’t long before Anna began galvanizing her dreams of serving her homemade piroshki to every San Francisco neighborhood.

Getting Anna’s Dreams Off the Ground

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“When I first started, I did not know what I was doing, I felt a little (or a lot) lost, but super committed,” Anna told Centro. Although we hear many entrepreneurs say this, we have discovered that they just need some guidance. Helping the entrepreneurs successfully put their ideas into action is the mission of Centro and its MBA Advisors.

After meeting Anna at a La Cocina workshop in 2011, we invited her to join Centro’s Centro’s Entrepreneurship Readiness Program. She was paired with her MBA advisor, Mariya Lyublina, and the match proved to be lasting. Anna recently told us, “My MBA Advisor is a really amazing person. It’s been a really wonderful experience to work with her and she still helps me a lot.”

Anna Receives Largest Kiva Zip Loan Ever

With the support of Centro’s program and her MBA Advisor, Anna created a working business model for her first AйDa Piroshki kiosk in Bernal Heights and developed a model to evaluate possible locations for future growth. With Centro’s endorsement, she also received a $5,000 interest-free loan from Kiva Zip to purchase a car to help her piroshki catering business grow. Since her start in 2011, Anna has hired 5 part-time employees and will hire more as she continues to grow.

After successfully paying her first loan back on time, Anna launched another Kiva Zip loan for $25,000 (their largest ever) to open a second kiosk location. The new AйDa Piroshki opened early last month in Second Act on Haight Street and offers the same delicious, fresh-baked menu as the Bernal Heights location.

San Francisco Falls in Love with AйDa Piroshki

San Francisco’s media and blogs are abuzz with raving reviews for AйDa Piroshki. One Yelper even said that he “…traveled 100 miles round-trip to try these piroshkis based on Yelp reviews and it was worth it!”

The Bernal Heights kiosk’s revenue has doubled since last year and the Haight Street location’s revenue is already comparable. As for more locations, Anna would like to open her third AйDa Piroshki on the Embarcadero.

Watching AйDa Piroshki grow, develop loyal customers and provide local jobs has been a joy to Centro and an inspiration to budding entrepreneurs. Anna continues to impress us with her personal and professional growth, and we are excited to remain close to her as she continues to make her dream of bringing piroshki to every San Francisco neighborhood a reality.

Go to AйDa Piroshki’s website
Visit AйDa Piroshki in Bernal Heights (331 Cortland Avenue, SF) or in the Haight (1727 Haight Street, SF).

Living Every Kid’s Dream

Luis Abundis, San Francisco/Oakland, Nieves Cinco de Mayo

Like most of us, Luis loved ice cream as a child. However, unlike most of us, starting at 8 years old, Luis began making his very own ice cream with his uncle on their ranch in San Juan de Monte, Mexico. When Luis immigrated to Oakland at the age of 24, he worked hard and went to school to learn English, but that 8-year-old was never far from his mind. He bought what he needed for an ice cream cart, and on May 5th, 1991, he started selling ice cream for the first time at a Cinco de Mayo festival.

Luis sold ice cream from a cart for several years, then through a pizza restaurant, and even operated that Pied Piper of childhood- an ice cream truck complete with a bell to announce his arrival to eagerly awaiting children. More than 15 years after that ice-cream cart, he opened his first store location in Oakland’s Fruitvale Market, and named it in honor of that first day selling with his cart – Nieves Cinco de Mayo.

Ambitious, self-made, and with a sweet ice cream following, Luis sought out Centro in 2011 to help take his business to the next level. Centro’s unique structure pairs each entrepreneur with a dedicated MBA Advisor, creating an exciting learning dynamic and a mentorship relationship that often lasts well beyond the program. Once Luis joined Centro’s Business Growth Program, he took weekly classes for four months and gained valuable advice from his MBA Advisor, Christine Kwong. Luis learned how to control inventory, capitalize on internet marketing, and with Centro’s help developed a business plan that mapped out a strategy for the future.

Armed with the skills he learned from Centro’s core curriculum and a plan to grow his business, Luis was able to open a second location on Mission Street in San Francisco. His nephew and brother help him there, and he has expanded his flavor selection from just lemon and vanilla when he had his cart, to more than 30 flavors of ice cream and shaved ice snow cones that he changes seasonally. His favorite flavor, lime, is always on the menu. Flavors like rose petal, hibiscus, guava and cactus fruit, along with traditional favorites, are among many to try. And we have!

Luis has been able to realize a childhood dream of operating his own ice cream business, and, with Centro’s help, he has added a new location, created jobs for his family, and is confident in his businesses’ future. You can indulge your sweet tooth, and your inner 8-year-old, at Luis’ Nieves Cinco de Mayo locations at Oakland’s Fruitvale Public Market (3340 E 12th St, Ste 2), or on Mission Street in San Francisco (2590 Mission Street).

Taco Grill … Healthy, Tasty, Organic Mexican Food

Leticia Chavez, Fruitvale, Taco Grill

Taco Grill, located less than a block away from the Fruitvale Bart Station in the Fruitvale Public Market, is owned by Leticia Chavez, a highly motivated mother of three. Leticia began learning about the restaurant business as a teenager at her fatherʼs eatery, Helenaʼs, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. By nineteen she was running the entire restaurant. Raised with an entrepreneurial spirit and strong work ethic, upon moving to Oakland, California, Leticia opened her own skincare business which is now owned and operated by her sister.

For her second business, Leticia decided to return to her roots in the restaurant world, and in 2007 she opened Taco Grill. Her mission was to serve flavorful healthy Mexican food. Taco Grill proudly utilizes organic meat products from Niman Ranch and Rocky Free Range Chickens as well as many other organic ingredients to prepare their food. In doing so, Leticia hopes to show people that Latin food can be healthy and tasty too. Itʼs working. Her customers rave about her delicious tacos, burritos, and pozole.

In 2011, the Unity Council, which runs a small business incubator providing affordable space for Taco Grill and other small businesses in the Public Market brought in Centro Community Partners to teach and advise its business owners. Leticia was paired with MBA advisor and professional coach Jennifer Lin, who helped Leticia create a growth strategy and leadership development plan for her business. She then strategized with Leticia about her profit margins, avenues for promotion of Taco Grill, and ways to raise employee morale. Jennifer also offered Leticia support and guidance with her vision for expanding Taco Grill into the catering sector which has increased profits for the business.

Leticia is not only grateful for the strategic advice she received from Centro, but also for the emotional support. From Centro she learned about self-care through understanding leadership behavior, attitude, and performance- very important elements needed to operate her business successfully. She began to delegate more responsibility and created a manager position for one of her employees. This allowed herself to have short “descansos” (rests). Centroʼs support has really helped her to maintain faith and confidence in her business.

 Leticia and Arturo at the 2012 Indie Awards

Leticia and Arturo at the 2012 Indie Awards

Before she worked with Centro Community Partners, Leticia was struggling with making the rent for Taco Grill each month, low credit, and low morale. With Centro’s advising and help, she has been able to make her rent, increase her profits, and her morale. She is proud that she can continue to offer her clientele delicious healthy Mexican food at a reasonable price, and they have rewarded her for her efforts. In 2012, she won the Indie Award in the Ripple Effect category where her customers voted her one of the best local businesses in Oakland out of 200 nominees.

 

Stop by Taco Grill today and try it for yourself! Make sure to ask about catering options.

Neo Cocoa Truffles Are No Trifle

Christine Doerr, Sunnyvale, Neo Cocoa

Christine began in the chocolate industry at “Cocolat,” a small chocolate shop located near Stanford University, which inspired her to attend the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. After working as a pastry chef for several years, she decided to explore a BFA in graphic design at San Jose State University, after which she ultimately circled back to her original chocolate making obsession.

Christine returned to chocolate with a new vision to start her own business, Neo Cocoa, and turned to La Cocina’s entrepreneur training program for professional guidance. Having learned basic business management skills at La Cocina, she turned to Centro for its advanced business development classes and the unique, hands-on mentoring she could receive from her own Centro MBA Advisor, Carly Perera. Christine and Carly worked together to find innovative strategies to help Neo Cocoa thrive and developed a strong bond and long-lasting friendship. Centro also helped Christine secure a business development loan from OBDC Small Business Finance to help launch and develop her new business.

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After a great deal of hard work buttressed by the unique training, mentoring, and support that Centro provided, Neo Cocoa has clearly arrived. Neo Cocoa has revolutionized the American style of truffle by bringing back the European trend of shell-less truffles, with an uncompromising mission of using only high-quality, local ingredients. This dedication to her local community, and her exquisite chocolates, have made Neo Cocoa a Bay Area phenomenon that is poised to expand even further.

Christine’s sweet success has been praised in the San Francisco Chronicle7×7 Magazine, and Dessert Professional – which named Neo Cocoa one of the “Top Ten Chocolatiers in North America.” Neo Cocoa also recently won top awards at the 2012 SF International Chocolate Salon, such as “Best Truffle”, “Most Luxurious Chocolate Experience”, and “Most Likely Addiction”. With degrees in both design and culinary arts, it is no wonder that Christine describes herself as an artist with chocolate as her medium.

Skincare by Feleciai… Celebrate the Art of Bathing

Feleciai Favroth, Oakland, Skincare by Feleciai

Skincare by Feleciai is a luxurious handmade skincare line based out of Oakland, CA and owned and operated by Feleciai Favroth. Feleciai, a Bay Area Native, attended Cornell as an undergraduate and received her MBA from the University of Pennsylvania. After spending time in the trenches of Corporate America and then working as a realtor, Feleciai decided to follow her passion and pursue a career in the beauty industry. She went to the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center to begin to conceptualize her business and then to Centro Community Partners, where she had a new support system and developed her business plan and financial projections. Feeling driven to provide a product and not a service, Feleciai envisioned a company dedicated to producing only the finest handmade products that were gentle on the skin and the environment. From that inspiration, Skincare by Feleciai was created.

Today Feleciai continues her mission to celebrate diversity and beauty with her fabulous line of products for both men and women. Her line features a variety of soaps and shea butter creams made from all-natural ingredients such as olive oil, essential oils and cocoa butter. She is proud of her product and feels truly successful when customers approach her to share their love of the overall experience they’ve had with her soaps and creams. Such praise is overheard frequently when Feleciai is out selling her line at local markets.

Feleciai participated in Centro’s Entrepreneurship Readiness Program in 2010 where she began to develop her business plan and used the program to access a loan. Skincare by Feleciai has nearly tripled in revenue since 2010 and continues to grow. To learn more about her products, visit http://skincarebyfeleciai.com, follow Skincare by Feleciai on Facebook or stop by the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market (at the corner of Washington and 9th Streets) on Fridays to meet her in person!

Update 5/1/12:

Feleciai just received an interest-free loan through Kiva Zip! The loan will help fund her website, take professional product pictures, upgrade her packaging and prepay five big festivals.

Update 3/25/13:

We are very proud of Feleciai for paying off her Kiva Zip loan!

 New Packaging for Eucalyptus Peppermint Soap from Skincare by Feleciai

New Packaging for Eucalyptus Peppermint Soap from Skincare by Feleciai

Feleciai was able to do exactly what she expected to do with the money – buy ingredients to make more soap, introduce beautiful new labels, pre-pay for high-end trade shows and craft fairs, and pay for professional photographs of her products. She was able to increase her revenues by both maximizing the visibility of her products and increasing the durability of her inventory, since the soaps last longer when professionally wrapped.

This year she plans to hire someone to help her with packaging so that she can fully focus on marketing, create new private-label items, fine tune her product line, and eventually move to a larger location. She’s considering taking out another Kiva Zip loan or trying out a crowdfunding site, like Indiegogo to help with the next stage of her growth.

Foodies at the Fruitvale Public Market

It has been a busy summer at Centro! We are currently working with the entrepreneurs at the Fruitvale Public Market in Oakland in our Business Growth Program. MBA Advisors have been working closely with the Fruitvale entrepreneurs to help grow and revitalize their businesses. We have also discovered some amazing foodie finds at the Public Market.

Stop by and try some of Leticia’s famous pozole and authentic home-style cooking at the Taco Grill. For dessert, there are plenty of options including traditional and unique ice cream flavors at Nieves Cinco de Mayo (our favorite is avocado!) Cold outside? Warm up with a churro hot caramel filled from Churros Mexicanos or a slice of famous tres leches cake from Bakery Del Sol.

PieTisserie: A Unique Take on Classic Dessert Pies

Jaynelle St. Jean was raised in a family of three women in the Sunset District of San Francisco.  She graduated from the top of her class from San Diego State University with a degree in journalism.  After living and working in New York and Hawaii, Jaynelle returned to the Bay Area and began her life as an entrepreneur.  On Valentine’s Day 2010, Jaynelle staged her mother’s apartment as a country window with pies set out to cool and served her neighbors on ceramic dishes in order to create a sense of community.  Soon, neighbors began to recognize her as the “pie lady.”  After this experience, Jaynelle knew that her future was in the pie business and she is now the owner of PieTisserie, a catering and retail business.

Jaynelle explains, “I will feel successful when my real life mimics elements of the lifestyle PieTisserie depicts – one in which my own financial needs are met and I share with others; one in which work and life complement one another, such that I have time and vitality to labor over food for family, friends and neighbors; and one in which I contribute to a community where trust is the norm and interdependency is safe.  The reason my business thrills me is because it allows me to experience these feelings, while I work on making my desired state a reality.”

Jaynelle participated in Centro’s second cohort, where she worked with MBA Advisors to further develop her business plan, capture her production costs, and create marketing and growth strategies. She has a devoted following who absolutely LOVE her pies!  To learn more about Jaynelle and her unique take on pies, see PieTisserie on Facebook.