Small Business Majority Blog

Small Business Matters

Churros Locos food truck

A vacation that turned out to be more work than play sparked a crazy idea for Isabel Sanchez and her husband, Daniel Huerta, that led to Portland’s red-hot food truck, Churros Locos.

During a trip along the Oregon coast, Sanchez and her husband met a gelato business owner who was lamenting about the lack of smell exuding from his shop to attract customers. In a flash, inspiration struck.

“My husband and I automatically thought of our childhood memories and our favorite dessert: churros,” Sanchez recalled, realizing that the powerful and nostalgic aroma of churros from her past could prove to be a bountiful business venture.

Both Sanchez and Huerta had full-time regular jobs, but the allure of the churro was something they knew they wanted to capitalize on. Instead of venturing out to open a traditional, brick-and-mortar churro shop, their wheels turned to a different track.

“We needed something that would provide flexibility, as well as minimal risk and investment at the beginning,” she said, highlighting the reasons why a food truck made the most sense for their churro business.

Isabel Sanchez, owner of Churros Locos

“We started small, slow, sweet and steady,” she said, noting that customers, friends and family slowly but surely began finding out and spreading the word about Churros Locos through social media, and their following and catering requests took off from there.

And while a food truck can provide some uniquely tricky obstacles like mechanical issues, especially for the dainty vintage truck that carts around Churros Locos, it’s been anything but a bumpy ride since Sanchez hit the road in 2013.

Should mechanical malfunctions arise, Sanchez breathes a sigh of relief that her husband is quite the handyman, lest Portlanders be deprived of their churros for too long.

The churro sundae in particular, a combination of piping-hot churros and cold ice cream, is what the people go truly loco for. Fans of the Portland Timbers and Thorns soccer teams have been indulging in these sundaes the most, as Churros Locos’ prime spot is the Providence Park Max Station just outside their playing field.

The famous churro sundae

“Looking at the demographics, we knew there was a market and demand for a familiar and cultural dessert in Portland. Our hope is to develop a strong demand [for churros] across generations.”

Ask Sanchez her favorite part of owning a food truck, and her answer is deliciously simple: getting to share the churro love.

“We love how a delicious dessert can reach so many and help everyone come together in various scenarios: weddings, birthday parties, and street fairs.”

That churro love has spread, too. Churros Locos was selected to participate at the World Street Food Congress in Singapore, bringing their churros to an international audience of hungry foodies. But Sanchez isn’t letting this honor make her forget about Portland.

“Locally, we want to continue sharing our churros with Portlanders via our Churro Mobile, and eventually open a permanent location.”

With that promise, Sanchez will continue to drive Portlanders crazy because Churros Locos is here to stay.

As we head into our 10-year anniversary, Small Business Majority is blazing trails like never before, and our team’s hard work is paying off in spades. In the past year alone, we have launched our entrepreneurship program to help strengthen our nation’s innovative minds and provide them with materials they need to launch their own businesses, our youth opportunity campaign to help get this nation’s unemployed youth back to work and an economic agenda to promote small business prosperity in the coming future.

These are just a few examples of the meticulous work, pioneering creativity and passionate dedication of Small Business Majority’s crackerjack team. And lately, people have been taking notice. Earlier this year, our very own blog was handpicked among many as a Business Blog to Watch in 2015 by Broadview Networks for being a knowledgeable and insightful destination for business analysis and trends.

Small Business Majority team

The Small Business Majority Communications Team was also nominated for the Nonprofit Team of the Year award by PR News, a national organization that serves the communications and marketing community for corporations, agencies and nonprofits. We were thrilled to be named as an Honorable Mention in that prestigious category. Most recently, Small Business Majority received the Award for Innovation in SME Growth & Business Excellence for Entrepreneurial Leadership by Acquisition International, a global business publication. This business excellence award recognizes outstanding performance, success, innovation and ethics across the business community.

We here at Small Business Majority could not be more honored and humbled by these accolades. As we gear up to tackle one of our biggest ventures yet, our first ever Small Business Leadership Summit this May in Washington, D.C., we will be unwavering in our pursuit to continue serving the small business community, and we look forward to making our tenth year the best one yet.

Michaela Hahn-Burriss, SBM's Ohio Outreach Manager

In workplaces around the country, and right here in the Buckeye State, laws protect employees against discrimination based on a whole host of things—including race, religion, sex, age, nationality and more. But in the 29 states that don’t explicitly ban it, Ohio included, people can still be legally fired or harassed just for being gay or transgender. Many small business owners in the state believe that needs to change now. This is why it’s crucial for the legislature to implement a uniform, statewide workplace non-discrimination policy that protects all Ohioans, and many small business owners agree.

Small Business Majority’s opinion polling found seven in 10 Ohio small business owners believe state law should prohibit discrimination against LGBT employees in the workplace, and the majority agree laws that protect against discrimination are good for their bottom lines. Many small business owners are surprised to learn that this kind of law is not already on the books in Ohio. In fact, 79 percent thought it was already illegal under state law to fire or refuse to hire someone for being gay or transgender.

Ohio small business owners believe laws that protect against discrimination can improve their bottom line and that these kinds of laws help employers attract the best and brightest employees, regardless of whether an employee is gay or transgender. Additionally, Ohio entrepreneurs strongly believe implementing a nondiscrimination policy is the right thing to do. Of employers who have a nondiscrimination policy in place for their businesses, the vast majority says it’s because they believe all employees should be treated fairly and equally.

Ohio small employers believe we’re long overdue for state policies protecting all workers from discrimination, and state lawmakers should take note. That’s why Small Business Majority is working with small business owners across the state to have their voices heard on this issue.

If you’re a small business owner in Ohio and believe it’s time for state lawmakers to pass a law banning discrimination in the workplace, we’d love to hear your comments on this issue. Contact Michaela Hahn Burriss at mhahnburriss@smallbusinessmajority.org.

Hipatia Lopez, creator of the Empanada Fork

Picture this: a young woman, Hipatia Lopez, is hosting a holiday party and working furiously to get her festive spread ready in time. Her husband is in the kitchen, frantically whipping up 100 empanadas to serve, a party favorite of the Lopezes’. Lopez enlists the help of her three children to seal 100 empanadas, a task she comes to find as dauntingly time-consuming. Then, inspiration strikes.

“I jokingly stated, ‘I am going to invent a utensil to help me,’” recalled Lopez. As she and her kids laughed off the frustration-based epiphany, Lopez could not get the idea out of her head.

“I found myself thinking about that 24/7,” she said. “I decided to do some research online and eventually decided to contact a patent lawyer, and the journey began.”

That journey led to Lopez’s business, H.L. Unico LLC, better known as Empanada Fork. It is the utensil that Lopez desperately needed during her empanada party prep. Now, she has the perfect tool to press and seal those empanadas quickly and easily.

“I instantly thought there was a market for Empanada Fork,” she said, noting the rising popularity of empanadas, from food trucks to restaurants that solely serve the bite-sized delicacies.

Lest you think the Empanada Fork is only useful on its namesake, think again.  The utensil can be used on anything ranging from mini calzones to apple turnovers.

It wasn’t an easy start for the utensil, however, as Lopez is quick to point out she had no grasp on what turning her light bulb moment into a reality would entail.

“I am not an engineer and could not draw. I did my best sketch and found an architect who brought it to life on paper. This whole journey has been a learning process for me, but it’s all been worth it in the end.”

The Empanada Fork

Consulting with a patent attorney, Lopez secured two design patents for the utensil and chose the best one to turn into a prototype to manufacture. As for the name, clear simplicity beat out any sort of embellished moniker: Empanada Fork just came naturally.

As a small business owner, Lopez has been contending with the obstacles that face many of her fellow entrepreneurs.

“It’s harder to get into big box stores than I thought it would be,” she said. “Since I am a small business, it is really hard to have stores give me an opportunity. Marketing has been challenging for me as well, and I’ve relied mostly on social media due to limited resources.”

But there are some great benefits and perks that come along with being an entrepreneur.

“When I get a phone call and my customers speak directly to me, they get really excited that it’s actually me on the phone. I absolutely love connecting with my customers.”

If there’s one thing Lopez’s story signifies, it’s that no matter how small the business may be, nothing can trump a big idea.

Small Business Majority CEO John Arensmeyer

There could be bad news on the horizon for small business owners looking forward to joining the new small business marketplaces next year: the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is considering yet another delay in expanding the small group market and the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) to small firms with 50-99 employees. This would be disappointing news because expanding the small group market next year will increase the size of the insurance pool, which benefits the healthcare system overall. What’s more, it expands the number of lives eligible for the small business health insurance marketplaces, which is good for businesses and the success of SHOP.

We believe there is no legal basis to delay expansion of the small group market, as the Affordable Care Act clearly requires this feature. The Department needs to move forward with the law as it stands, and ensure expansion of the small group is implemented in 2016.

Delaying the 2016 transition of the small group market could be detrimental to SHOP and small businesses looking forward to this option. We know from our research that many small business owners struggle to offer health insurance to their employees due to cost. In fact, Small Business Majority’s scientific opinion polling found the majority of small business owners provide insurance to at least some of their employees, but of those who don’t offer it, 70% say it’s because they can’t afford it. Small businesses have been waiting for decades for something to help bring down their costs, and the 2016 expansion to small firms with 50-99 employees will help more small businesses find affordable health coverage.

Some have said that requiring 50-99 employer firms to offer coverage next year would be harmful to those businesses; however, 96% of businesses with more than 50 employees already offer health insurance to their employees. Allowing these businesses to enter the small group market in 2016 can offer a wealth of benefits, both to firms that already offer health insurance and those shopping for coverage for the first time. These employers will no longer be charged more for insurance based on the gender or health status of their workers, and new limits will be in place to control how much more a business can be charged for its older workers. Additionally, employers will have peace of mind knowing each insurance plan in the small group market covers all essential health benefits. This means small employers and their workers will no longer have to worry about reading the fine print in their health insurance plans to find out if they are covered for basic benefits, such as emergency room visits.

What’s more, this expansion has the potential to bring a wave of growth next year to the small business marketplaces, which is crucial for the success of SHOP. As many of these businesses already offer health insurance benefits to their employees, these firms have a higher incidence of both employer and employee familiarity with health insurance. These will be firms that have more time and human resources to engage in SHOP, as opposed to businesses with less than 50 employees. We’ll also see more broker involvement in SHOP as firms of this size are more likely to utilize the help of agents. These firms mean more to a broker’s book of business and their incomes.

We want all small businesses to be able to enjoy affordable and comprehensive health insurance coverage, and an expanded small group market can help small businesses achieve that.

We believe delaying expansion of the small group market goes against the letter of the law and doesn’t do our nation’s job creators any favors. We hope HHS reconsiders this delay and ensures the small group expansion moves forward next year as planned.