By Zakia Williams
MASC 645 Visual Journalism
RICHMOND, Va. — The Richmond community is getting a taste of the Hispanic culture in more ways than just through a bite of quesadilla or enchilada.
At La Sabrosita Bakery, residents can choose to sweeten their palates with pastries representing many parts of Latin America. La Sabrosita Bakery is a Hispanic family owned and operated business that specializes in bread, pastries, and cakes. Argentina Ortega, who is the mother of three sons, said owning a bakery has always been her passion.
“Since they were babies, I used to make cakes for my neighbors and I love that,” she said. “That’s the part I love the most of the bakery.”
Ortega’s vision for a bakery first rose to success when she bought a bakery in Los Angeles, which she owned from 1997 to 2002. In 2002, Ortega moved to Richmond and began designing draperies. But there was proof in the pudding that her desire to start a bakery was still there.
“Then I always wanted to have a bakery here and my sons they push me to apply for a loan in the Chamber of Commerce and that’s how I started,” Ortega said.
Ortega’s store is one of many Hispanic owned businesses adorning the Midlothian Turnpike corridor. The bakery’s neighbor is Chicken Fiesta and across the street is LA Palmera.
Laura Middlebrooks, Assistant Professor of Spanish at Virginia Commonwealth University, said she believes the influx of Hispanics in Richmond, especially down Jefferson Davis Highway and Midlothian Turnpike, correlates with their business growth in the area.
“I imagine that immigrants have settled, fresh speaking immigrants in this area because of property value which are relatively lower compared to other places in the Richmond area,” she said.
“With any immigrant community there is a phenomena which you have one core group of people from a community, they attract others from similar communities.”
Hear Dr. Laura Middlebrooks, Assistant Professor of Spanish at VCU, explain why she took Spanish and the controversy Hispanics are facing regarding the U.S. Census.
In the 1990 to 2000 census, the Latino population soared over 150 percent in Richmond from 1,890 to 5,074 in 2000 and to 9,052 in 2007. According to the 2002 census, Hispanics owned 3.6 percent of the businesses in Virginia and 1.6 percent in Richmond.
The Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, an organization dedicated to building bridges between the Latino community and Virginia’s international business community, is helping to increase Hispanic businesses. Michel Zajur, President and CEO of the VAHCC, said his organization helps several entrepreneurs from Hispanic and non Hispanic origins to put open signs on their business doors.
“We help them to do a business plan … where to get bank loans, how to register your business, how to get your license,” Zajur said. “There’s so much information that they don’t have that we help them to get.”
Zajur believes the VAHCC presence is also changing the dynamics of businesses in Virginia.
“Hispanic businesses in the country are growing three times faster than mainstream businesses and in Virginia they are growing 20 percent faster,” he said. “I think a lot it is because of the assistance that we give in connecting people …”
The organization’s assistance is what Ortega praised the most.
“At the moment I didn’t have money to have an accountant to make numbers and everything so I did what I could, the most I could and they helped me that way,” Ortega said. “They didn’t tell me, no you need this – no, they helped.”
Although Ortega said things are running smoothly, she didn’t sugar coat the challenges she faced in the beginning. In 2005, Ortega said the former owners would shut down the bakery periodically making it difficult to run a stable business. So she began working by herself along with a lady who helped her to clean. When things began to move forward, Ortega focused in on a bigger location.
In 2009, Ortega and her sons bought La Sabrosita Bakery to Midlothian Turnpike. Mario Dawson, Ortega’s son and business partner, said the change in venue created a change in menu.
“So what we wanted to do was expand and have a retail store with ethnic products, coffee chips, and we wanted as well to promote different kinds of bread not just what she had,” Dawson said.
Caramel cookies from Peru, Corn Cheese from Mexico and Quesadillas from El Salvador are just a few of the goods Dawson said are amongst the bakery’s best sellers. But Richmond residents aren’t the only ones who are in for a treat. The bakery delivers breads and pastries to stores located throughout the state, including such places as Harrisonburg, Norfolk, Petersburg and Northern Virginia just to name a few.
Ana Reach, a customer for more than two years, loves the Columbia goods and pastries so much that she’s even contributed to making the store internationally known.
“At this moment I’m buying this for to take it to Canada to a sister,” Reach said, during a pit stop to the store before boarding her plane.
With all of the store’s extra features such as offering a cafe’ setting, convenient store, and Money Gram location, Ortega said it’s their specialty cakes that’s bringing in the dough.
“Over here we’ve increased sales, wedding cakes, birthday cakes, sweet sixteen – we’re very busy with the cakes,” Ortega said.
But Ortega made it clear that although the bakery is Hispanic owned and sells several Latin American products, the store is a one stop market for everyone.
“We have white people, black people, Muslims, Indian people, Puerto Ricans and Hispanics,” she said. “We have all the cultures here and they love it.”
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