West Side United awarded grants to 29 small West Side businesses on Monday. Credit: West Side United

AUSTIN — In neighborhoods where the local economy is thriving, where there are job opportunities and where young people can get a quality education, residents who live there tend to have longer, healthier lives.

On the West Side, however, after years of disinvestment, residents in some areas like Garfield Park live an average of 16 fewer years than people who live Downtown, a staggering “death gap” that the public health collaborative West Side United to battling to close.

This week, the coalition awarded grants to 29 small businesses as part of its efforts to rebuild the West Side from within. West Side United is a coalition of healthcare providers and educators as well as business and government leaders.

Its Small Business Accelerator grant program helps address some of the social determinants of the “death gap.” The program launched in 2019 by awarding $85,000 in grants.

After getting financial support from Accion Chicago, Northern Trust and JPMorgan Chase, the organization unveiled $500,000 in grants to support economic vitality as a way of improving health outcomes on the West Side.

Ayesha Jaco

“We know that the communities that have more resources have longer life expectancy because there are thriving businesses. Because there is access to fresh produce and high quality food, and there is green space,” said West Side United Executive Director Ayesha Jaco.

The grants were awarded on Martin Luther King Day to honor his legacy of tackling systemic inequities to level the playing field for people who are low-income, black and brown. The 29 grants offered small businesses up to $29,000 for projects that would help them increase their revenue, expand their operations, hire locally and create a domino effect of bringing commerce to underinvested parts of the West Side.

According to Mary Kate Daly, a vice president for Lurie Children’s Hospital, the hospitals that are part of West Side United are also working to integrate some of the grant winners services into their supply chains to help patronize the local businesses.

“We also need to provide opportunities for these businesses in order for them to have sustainable growth,” Daly said.

Lurie Children’s Hospital, for example, employs the catering services of Amazing Edibles, which was just awarded a second grant from the program. While their grant last year allowed them to purchase a van to expand their catering business, this year’s award will allow founder Andrea Herrera to launch an internship program that will open up career pathways to local residents, which Herrera hopes will inspire young people to launch their own businesses one day.

Amazing Edibles catering was one of the recipients of the grants.

“As a minority-owned business, we are committed to sharing our expertise with others in an effort to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs who will make the West Side their home,” Herrera said.

Likewise, Austin-based Coleman BBQ applied for the grant so they could continue providing quality food to the neighborhood and creating jobs for community members. The grant will allow the restaurant to replace its 30-year-old BBQ pit and purchase a new walk-in freezer that will help them to serve more customers. Co-owner Lynette Coleman wants the longstanding success of their restaurant to show folks in the area that Austin has a lot to offer for residents.

“The West Side is beautiful and it’s a great place to live. We’ve been on the West Side for at least 45 years,” she said.

Lynette and her sister Debra Coleman took over the family business after their father died, and they want the business to thrive in his memory. They hope to eventually upgrade their take-away BBQ joint into a sit-down restaurant with an outdoor seating area.

“For many years as a child coming up, we didn’t have much. … When they came up with that barbecue business they were really excited about it. The restaurant business took off. It led them down a great, successful path,” Lynette Coleman said.

For the Coleman family, the business is an engine of opportunity for future generations and for the neighborhood as a whole. Their top priority is to be able to provide jobs for nearby residents, and to inspire others to chase their own ambitions. Many former employees have gone on to launch their own restaurants and other businesses, Lynette Coleman said.

And just like the restaurant’s founders Henry and George Coleman used the business to provide economic opportunity for Lynette and her sister, she wants to keep the business going to share the wealth with others too.

“The same thing that they provided for their children, we see the same opportunity to provide for ours,” she said.  “It’s much bigger than us. It’s for the generations to come.”

Here is the full list of grant awardees:

• Amazing Edibles: Start a West Side intern program and provide local residents with 4-month-long paid internships (culinary, digital, catering operations).

• Strickland Brothers BBQ and Jerk: Purchase a food truck to expand customer base (in addition to existing restaurant).

• Salesdo Press Inc: Upgrade current internal systems with new estimating and production-flow software and add workstations in production areas to improve efficiency.

• FIIT CITY: Fund the gym’s Functional Training Equipment.

• Corner Store Deli: Use of the Hatchery to access shared kitchen space to develop, prep and prepare products as well as the hiring and training of employees.

• Metaphrasis Language and Cultural Solutions: Provide scholarships for residents for interpreter training to further serve the needs of West side residents who are not proficient in English in addition to making customer service improvements.

• Colemans BBQ: Purchase of new equipment, such as barbecue pit, new grill and new walk-in freezer.

• It Takes a Village: Implementation of new outreach / marketing plan to reach an additional 180 low-income families.

• DermaPhilia: Lease a property for product manufacturing.

• All The Details Cleaning: Marketing campaign to improve brand awareness, finance and operations expenditures.

• Rose and Jaad Construction INC: Employ paid interns and cover expenses for company van.

• Chef’s on the Go’Go: Purchase of delivery van and other catering equipment.

• Madison Ethos: Architectural services.

• BLK Building Solutions: Purchase equipment such as a work van.

• DLV Printing Service: Upgrade technology.

• Thomas Mechanical Corporation: Add headcount including offering an apprenticeship to a West side resident.

• A Taste of Nostalgia: Starting the business including advertising, baking equipment, inventory, packaging, etc.

•  Smooth and Social Roots: Refrigerated van to transport produce.

• LiveEquipd: Finance and marketing expenses.

• Back of the Yards Coffee: Recruit, hire and train eight new coffee professionals at the Pilsen coffeehouse who would be offered a salary above living wage.           

• 6978 Soul Food: Implement new marketing and growth plan.

• US Veterans Security: Licensing, insurance-related and legal expenses.

• Worthy One Designs: Website development and marketing-related expenses.

• La Chilangueda: Property-related expenses.

• Terra Bites: Securing all necessary licenses, certifications and insurance to operate out of a commercial kitchen.

• AD HOC PROPERTY SERVICES: Faility-related expenses.

• McCanna Videography: Technology upgrades.

• Twenty Eleven Construction Inc: Marketing and business development-related expenses.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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