New Community Market Provides Fresh Food and Entrepreneurship Opportunities
Ashland Market & Cafe is now open for business, rain or shine, selling fresh and healthy culinary creations at affordable prices to the Ashland community. The market consists of three kiosk food businesses and one anchor café. On opening day, Ashland residents stood in line, eager to try a variety of gourmet fare prepared by local entrepreneurs. Families gathered at community tables that lined the brand-new market and cafe, while children took turns blowing bubbles outside in the sunshine. Art by community members fills the walls, and local organizations host events and programming on-site. Even on day one, it was clear that the Ashland Market & Cafe would serve as a community gathering place and food hub for years to come.
But this incredible milestone didn’t just happen overnight. The Ashland Market and Cafe was a multi-phase project that we, Mandela Partners, helped to launch. At Mandela Partners, our development model focuses on uplifting local voices and creating tangible economic opportunities for community residents and local businesses. We partnered with Resources for Community Development and the Alameda County Economic Development Agency to develop a year-long community needs assessment process that would ultimately inform the planning and design of the market and cafe.
Three Phases from Survey to Launch
In the first phase, we created a community survey that asked residents what they envision for a retail space, and what they hoped to see in their community. What we heard was clear: Residents wanted a food market that offered healthy, delicious food options produced by and for their community. As Latoya Bryant, Ashland resident and entrepreneur/co-owner of Jacquelynn’s Heart & Soul, put it: “there’s nothing to eat in the neighborhood but fast food.”
During the next phase, we did outreach to local organizations and community groups to recruit and select businesses. But we didn’t do it on our own. Local residents, via a twelve-person committee, helped select the inaugural entrepreneurs. In the selection process, we conducted interviews and taste-tests. Over the course of this phase, we also ensured that the selected businesses matched with community needs.
Phase three was intense: It involved immersive, concentrated training for the entrepreneurs. They participated in a five-week Business Development training series on-site co-led with Centro Community Partners. At the end of the training series, the entrepreneurs pitched their business concepts and enjoyed a grand celebration. Post-training, the entrepreneurs received one-on-one advising and culinary development programming from Mandela Partners. We facilitated various trainings, including how to work in a professional kitchen – which some business owners had never done before.
More Than a Food Hall
The Ashland Market & Cafe is not just a food hall in the neighborhood. It shines as a vibrant food space that cultivates economic opportunity and healthy living as well as uplifts the Ashland community. The market and cafe provides a space for community entrepreneurs to incubate their business, market test and sell products in a low-cost retail venue. Ultimately, we want the entrepreneurs to grow into a brick-and-mortar space after one to three years.
Now that the food hall is open, we continue to invest in these four local food businesses and support their growth and expansion. I support the entrepreneurs by offering one-on-one financial advising, sales channel development, culinary-specific technical assistance, as well as serving as a general thought and accountability partner. Having worked with the food businesses from day one, I have witnessed each of them execute their unique vision for their business and continue to grow and expand in pursuit of their entrepreneurial dreams while supporting the community they are from.
Looking ahead, we recognize that the Ashland Market and Cafe is a stepping stone for underserved entrepreneurs to be able to launch their vision into a formal business, and have access to much-needed startup capital. We’re currently exploring ways to tailor and replicate this model—both locally and across the country—in collaboration with field experts, practitioners, and community stakeholders.