The Story of Micro Mercantes & the Portland Mercado

Low income entrepreneurs of color will launch, grow and keep their food businesses in the city, creating wealth and jobs for their families and communities. They will be the forefront of the food trends in the city and beyond, innovating and creating new products and markets and making the city’s food landscape more vibrant and inclusive.

 
 
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Tamale Beginnings - 2006

Hacienda CDC, our parent non-profit, began as an affordable housing agency 1992 in the NE Portland neighborhood of Cully. Our community micro-enterprise program grew out of the needs expressed by Hacienda's residents. In 2006, a group of 20 or so low-income, Latina women living in Hacienda’s properties approached the organization, interested in selling tamales at the farmers markets to supplement their family incomes. Hacienda responded by developing a small food incubator program called Micro Mercantes. The program provided some coaching and hands-on help to prepare for a successful market experience, access to a network of kitchens provided by community organizations in Spanish.

Photo: Farmers market managers meet our businesses through a meet & greet event we host at the Ortiz Center.
 

Becoming a Food Business Incubator - 2011

In November 2011, after a visit to La Cocina in San Fransisco, it was decided that Micro Mercantes would expand and formalize to better meet the needs of a burgeoning Latino population and increasing number of low-income entrepreneurs in Portland interested in moving from the informal to the formal economy. The team was inspired by La Cocina, particularly their committment to "entrepreneurs gaining financial security by doing what they love to do, creating an innovative, vibrant and inclusive economic landscape". During this time, the number of staff increased, a new commercially licensed kitchen was built in Hacienda’s Ortiz community center, the program entered into a contract with the City of Portland to offer more formal, long-term business advising and it started piloting a more formalized business development curriculum called Arrancando mi Negocio, or ‘getting my business started.’ Taking inspiration from the Kauffman Foundation’s business development curriculum, Hacienda adapted the 12-week curriculum to serve the specific needs of Latino entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurs of color, as well as incorporating market characteristics specific to the Portland market. Micro Mercantes also began to offer some capital in the form on Individual Development Accounts and KIVA ZIP.

Photo: Mixteca's head chef cooks in our old licensed kitchen in the Ortiz Center.
 

Building Our Market - 2015 to Now

In March 2015, the program expanded further by opening the Portland Mercado, a $2 million+ project that offers a physical market for at least 16 entrepreneurs to sell out of, event and cultural space and a larger and better equipped commercial kitchen. The Micro Mercantes food incubator is now housed in the market and has also expanded. It now offers its programming in two sections, “Learn” in Foundations and “Launch and Grow” in its Program Services (more information on this page).  Micro Mercantes has grown to 6 FTE, a contracted adviser and a contracted (local co-operative) property management company. The program has built a robust outreach strategy that has increased its pipeline of clients from different communities in Portland. It offers its programming in English and Spansih, with other languages available if needed. In recognition of this work, Micro Mercantes has won many awards, including the City of Portland’s Spirit of Portland award, Travel Portland’s President’s award and Sustainable Business Oregon’s Innovator in Sustainability award.

Photo: The grand opening!