In The Community
“I think the pandemic showed me how absolutely fragile everything is, and it's all falling apart, like in our industry,” said Mariela Camacho.
Before the pandemic upended everyone’s life in 2020, Camacho was looking for a retail space for her bakery, Comadre Panadería. But as the story goes, she had to shift her business model like most business owners did during those early months to prevent the spread of COVID-19. She offered her pan dulce made with organic ingredients through weekend deliveries in Austin and San Antonio.
“It took a lot of work, but we did it, because we knew people weren't going to leave their house,” Camacho said in a recent phone interview with Luz Media. “We realize that if we want to generate income through this tiny business, we have to go out of our way and do things that aren't really very profitable.”
Luz previously reported that a survey from The American Association of University Women (AAUA) revealed the devastating economic, social and health repercussions that Latinas faced during the pandemic. A third of the Latinas surveyed lost their jobs or had their hours reduced. While the Latina pay gap has always been grossly unbalanced, it has become even worse as the gap decreased from 57 cents to a white man's dollar in 2020 to 49 cents in 2022. This is also in addition to a Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative survey that showed that Latino-owned businesses had their PPP loans approved at half the rate of white-owned businesses in 2020.
Camacho previously told Luz that she didn’t apply for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, but she did receive $1,000 from the $10,000 she requested for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. She didn’t think she qualified for the PPP loan, but after talking to some of her friends and doing some research, she eventually applied and received funds that provided a bit more financial cushion.
“It was quite a process. I personally struggled with it a lot,” said Camacho. “There was a lot of language that I didn't understand.”
As businesses reopened and vaccines were distributed, a “new normal” emerged. Camacho would occasionally sell her food at pop-ups, depending on the state of the pandemic, but she has primarily adapted to a pre-ordering system. Each week, customers can place an online order on Tuesday from an evolving weekly menu that can include conchas (brioche bread topped with a cookie shell resembling a seashell) or pink cake (corn cake with pink frosting) along with some vegan and gluten-free options. The orders can then be picked up on Saturday or Sunday morning at Nixta Taqueria in East Austin.
This has made the chef’s life easier because she knows how many items to make each week. Sometimes there are extra pastries available to purchase for walk-ups on Sunday morning, but if you’re in the area and looking to pick up some of her delicacies, a word of advice is to arrive as early as possible as she does sell out. She promotes her business through her website and social media, but it’s primarily through word of mouth. Some of the customers from her deliveries still order with her, with some occasionally making the trip from San Antonio to Austin.
“I feel like so much of it has come from just people believing in the foods that we're making,” said Camacho.
And one thing Camacho has learned through this pandemic is the importance of community.
“I am personally very introverted. I need a lot of quiet time,” said Camacho. “I really like being alone, but I 100% believe that our future is community based. We need to work together. We can't do this alone. So I think it's really important to build those relationships with people in your community.”
Camacho met the owners of Nixta, Sara Mardanbigi and Chef Edgar Rico, when she would eat there with her partner, and they eventually became friends. Mardanbigi and Rico, who was recently announced as a James Beard Award finalist, offered their space for Camacho to distribute her orders before the restaurant opens on the weekends.
“There was so much generosity on their part and they genuinely believe in what I'm doing,” said Camacho.
The owners of Nixta also host pop-ups with other businesses. Most recently, they celebrated Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on March 20, as the city settled down from the annual South by Southwest festival. Camacho collaborated with her friend Nora El Hassouni of Masa Ruda with a special menu filled with almonds, pistachios, pomegranate, and yogurt to mark the occasion.
This August will mark four years of Camacho running Comadre Panadería full-time. She is still looking for a retail space as she did before the country went into lockdown in 2020, but her approach for that has changed.
“I have more of a co-op mindset for a kitchen space,” said Camacho. “I just think how great would it be for these small businesses or small food operations to be able to have a space where they could actually afford the rent and be able to generate some income for themselves or their family?”
The city of Austin has seen an increase in commercial real estate in addition to its housing market, especially in the last year. According to a CBRE Survey, Austin became a top target for investors in 2021 due to its strong job and population growth. However, as the property becomes more valuable, those values increase, which affects smaller businesses like Comadre Panadería.
“How are we gonna buy a $2 million building in a very wealthy city like Austin? I have no idea,” said Camacho. “It's working that part out.”
In the meantime, Camacho will continue to sell her baked goods through the pre-ordering system on her website and the occasional pop-up.
“I'm not super rich, or have a lot of power, or anything like that, but I do have independence,” said Camacho. “And I do have control of what choices I get to make and do things that I believe in.”
Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez, founder of Latina Rebels, a page dedicated to Latina Culture, is also a storyteller, author, and activist. She is a Nicaraguan first gen graduate, and since then, Prisca has had to claim her space and make a name for herself.
Her debut book, For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts: A Love Letter to Women of Color, is a memoir for brown girls who face challenges and have the power to reclaim their identity in a white-dominated world. She also addresses imposter syndrome and colorism. The book is for all women of color looking to embrace their individuality.
Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez is an unapologetic Latina whose book will offer you wisdom from her own experiences and empower you. Check out her book:
For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts: A Love Letter to Women of Color
For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts: A Love Letter to Women of Color a.co
Maricela Guerra had a successful corporate career for over ten years but when her dog came into her life, things changed. Today she runs a popular dog store in the southside of San Antonio, Texas and she shares with us her journey. Guerra also gives us tips on how to spot pet anxiety and how to manage it. Tips that will be helpful for those of you going back to work and wondering how you’ll handle leaving your loved pets at home. Find out more about her small business and pet pro tips below!
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.
Mari, tell us a little about your background.
I was born and raised in the southside of San Antonio in a single-parent home. Stemming from divorced parents and a mom who attended night school to get her degree and worked multiple jobs to put me through Catholic school, a strong work ethic was one thing instilled in me from the get go. After graduating high school, I left the state to attend Northwestern University in Chicago, where I obtained my Bachelor Degree in Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences. I moved back home and took a job in the financial services industry and then transitioned into project management. While doing project management for a healthcare company, I attended night school at the University of Incarnate Word to get my Masters in Business Administration and joined a corporate company in the technology field. However, things changed for me when my dog came into my life.
Tell us more about this experience.
About six years ago, my life and future plans changed when a stray dog ran into my life… my “Wookie.” All good pet parents want a certain lifestyle for their pets. Whether it’s the food in their dish, the apparel they wear, or the shampoo they’re bathed with, we want the best for them! Since I couldn’t easily attain quality essentials for my Wookie in nearby neighborhoods, I decided to create the kind of place that brings together not just the necessities, but a full canine lifestyle experience with quality at the core of our business model. So I put my sales and business experience to use and opened up SouthPaw Waggery.
A lot of people are getting ready to go back to work and they are concerned with leaving pets at home. Let’s talk about pet separation anxiety and how to identify it.
Separation anxiety is definitely the most common anxiety seen in pets – many of which come from shelter and rescue organizations. Whether coming from an abusive or neglected home, anxiety can stem from any sort of lifestyle changes and can oftentimes come from attachment to their owner. Something many will face since we have spent so much time in lockdown with our pets.
Some common symptoms include:
- urinating & defecating
- barking & howling
- chewing, digging and destruction of objects
- panting & pacing
- hiding in another area
As a dog owner and pet store owner we know you have some good tips for us to help ease our dogs. Can you share those?
Assessing your pet’s behavior is most important – while trying to avoid turning to medication right away. There are various methods to try to help soothe your dog and make them feel more comfortable, for example:
- seeking professional help by consulting with a certified behaviorist or trainer
- crate training to help develop a “safe place” for your pet (not suitable for all dogs, but a good option for some)
- providing lots of physical and mental stimulation (games, interactive toys & feeders, playing, walks/runs)
- CBD – before heading towards prescriptive medication, try calming CBD/Hemp treats and oil
What are things we should not do with pets when you notice separation anxiety?
As a pet parent, it’s important that you become a trusted partner and reliable leader for your dog. Each pet is different – how they develop anxiety, how they cope with anxiety, how they react to various treatments and interactions. Don’t believe everything you read or are told. No one treatment or activity works for every dog. It is up to you to do what’s right. So do your research and closely observe your dog’s behavior and make an educated decision. Don’t give up if your first treatment option fails – stay patient and keep working with your dog!
Where can we follow your adventures on building SouthPaw Waggery?
This interview is part of the Luz Collective’s Alpha Latina: Small Business Saturday series. This series highlights the accomplishments of Alpha Latinas making a difference in their communities through their small businesses. Interested in being featured? Email us.