WEST ALLIS — Despite nearly 100,000 small businesses expected to never open their doors again because of the pandemic, a woman in West Allis is defying the odds.
“I love decorating cakes,” Ana González, owner of Piece of Love Cake and Gift Shop said. "The opportunity in this place came and I was like, it's either now or I wait. The pandemic is here but coming back to my passion and vision to where I want to see this in the next year or two years or three years, even though it’s pandemic time, I need to open. I want to open. I see something beyond this.”
For González, the secret behind starting her business and making a quality baked good are one and the same. She needs the dough to succeed. While her hands can work with the ingredients to make delicious sweet treats, the need for capital is essential.
“I got savings and my mom provided me with some money,” González said.
Often, minority business owners depend on their own cash reserves, family and friends more than their white counterparts. González also benefited from a KIVA Loan, a crowdfunding loan program of sorts that can fill in the gaps from traditional financial institutions.
Those gaps become wider for certain groups of people. For González, she came to this country from Mexico through the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act. She was very young at the time but her parents brought her family here to achieve the American Dream.
Something González is pursuing through Piece of Love. She bakes and creatively decorates cakes but also provides a number of other services from floral arrangements with chocolate-covered strawberries to cake pops and more.
“She brought us here because she saw possibilities for us,” González said. "The fact that she sees us accomplishing those goals she had for us, I think she is really, really proud.”
The struggle for people like González, in pursuing that dream, is doing it from square one. With little equity, getting a traditional bank loan is nearly impossible to acquire.
“In order for me to get a business loan, I’m told I have to have a business and a business history for at least two years to get a loan,” González said. "How do you get a business loan when you don't have that yet?"
Couple that with disparities in homeownership, one of the biggest drivers for bank loans. The latest data from The Greater Milwaukee Foundation shows 38.2 percent of Hispanic Residents in Milwaukee own their homes. White residents have a homeownership rate in Milwaukee of 69.2 percent.
“There are cultural barriers, financial literacy,” Nelson Soler, President and CEO of the Latino Chamber of Commerce said. “Our communities are at least one generation behind on financial literacy and awareness and about the same on wealth accumulation.”
Soler says, because many Latinos in the United States are first or second generation, they lack the institutional education in matters like finance. He says, in Hispanic and Latino regions, banking is also much different.
“Banking is not the same there as it is here,” Soler said. “People get credit based on being employed, their family name or if people know who they are. They will extend credit to you. Here, it’s more rigid and more structured. That creates a barrier for people.”
Soler, a former banker himself, says he would often get in trouble for spending more time with certain clients, explaining and understanding the intracacies of what the person was signing up for.
“They assume that you’re all here and understand what a financial statement is, what cash flow is,” Soler said. “They’re talking their language, which is a university college language. It’s not that we are not educated, but dealing with barriers in education in terms of financial acumen and understanding how they translate that simple concept of profit and loss to a person who never heard of the concept. It’s unheard of to have to explain that sort of thing.”
Through the Latino Chamber of Commerce, they offer technical training and education on finances to help bridge these gaps. That way, entrepreneurs like González, don’t have to be all alone in their pursuit of owning a business. In addition, Soler says they’re working on becoming an alternate lender to provide more options for Latino Entrepreneurs.
“We don’t have a lot of Latino lenders, especially on the commercial side,” Soler said. “It makes it more difficult to bridge the gap between our culture and business.”
Bridging that gap will allow business owners to focus more on their passion. For González, she's constantly learning. If it's not new techniques on decorating and baking sweet treats, she’s getting a crash course in how to best TikTok a newly iced cake. Or, she’s updating a Square Space website even though she has little experience in doing so. All the while, she’s learning the fundamentals of what being a successful business is.
It’s an exhausting process, but she’s never been happier. This is her passion and she’s committed to success.
“When you have a passion it’s like, wow, this took me five or six hours and I still have three more to go but I can do this,” González said. "I can finish it. When people receive the cake or the arrangement, the smile that I see, the way that what I do makes them feel, it gets my sparkle going throughout the day.”