Provo minority-owned businesses meet niche market needs

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Small businesses in Provo aren’t using loans from the Small Business Administration but, despite the economy, are still doing well.

In a census taken in 2007 out of the 45,490 businesses in Utah County, 3,220 are minority businesses.

Sandeep Kumar  and his partner Sham Sher Singh, own and operate several small businesses in Provo geared toward eating and preparing Indian food. They run the Bollywood Market at 169 N. University Ave. and the Spice Grill at 163 N. University Ave. Kumar’s wife Ginny and her brother Lucky help operate the businesses.

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Chao's Trading Company offers Provo citizens unique items such as canned squid, preserved duck eggs, and Chinese candy. Despite rising prices, the store's owners are expanding their clientele.
“I’ve been here 20 years,” Singh said.

Singh came to Provo from India to work as a chef at Bombay House, which his family owns. While there, he realized there was no place for Provo residents to buy groceries to cook their own Indian food.

“I did not see any Indian grocery store in the last 19 years in all Utah County,” Singh said.

At the time, according to Singh, the only way for students to get Indian groceries was to go to Salt Lake City.

In March 2010, Singh opened the Bollywood market to fill that need.

“Right now, as the economy is hurting everyone, actually it’s the good, unique store,” Singh said.

Singh credits his store’s success with the fact he stocks all types of ingredients necessary to cook Indian food from scratch.

“They can get, over here, 100 percent of what they need,” Singh said.

The Spice Grill, while adjacent to the Bollywood Market, is a separate business. At the Spice Grill, patrons can enjoy Indian street food in a deli-like atmosphere.

Kumar also works at Bombay House and is perfectly willing to recommend a product to customers who don’t have experience cooking Indian food.

Another minority business that is flourishing in Provo is Chao’s Trading Company. It is at 77 N. University Ave., and is now under new management.

Nate Burrows bought Chao’s  from Wina Chao, who owned the Asian market with her husband for the past 30 years.

“We retired, we’ve been working over 35 years and we are getting very old,” Chao said.

Chao knew the Burrows family personally, which prompted her to sell the business to Burrows and let him take it over.

“They are very nice friends of ours,” Chao said.

Burrows’ mother Brenda, as well as his grandmother, Chao, Burrows’ sister and one of her friends work in the store. Burrows is one-quarter Japanese, went on an LDS mission to Japan, so he speaks Japanese and has experience with Asian food.

“We’ve got all kinds of crazy stuff here,” Brenda Burrows said.

The store sells, among other things, various Asian sauces, Thai basil dinnerware, canned squid and “100-year-old eggs” (preserved duck eggs).

According to Nate Burrows, the most popular item in the store is probably a certain Chinese candy.

“It’s like a milk-vanilla flavored tootsie roll …  wrapped in rice paper so you can eat the wrapper,” Burrows said.

Many hours go into running the store.

“It was going to be a lot of work because he has a full-time job at a Japanese company,” Burrows said of her son. “He works from midnight to eight every night every day except Friday and Saturday.”

After that, according to Brenda, her son goes home to nap for an hour, then puts in six hours at Chao’s. Chao has stayed on at the store and is mentoring her grandson.

“This year has been a real challenge because he’s learning the business, it’s not like he has a business degree,” Brenda said.

Another challenge for Burrows has been the economy’s effect on prices.

“This is the year when prices shot up on just about everything,” Brenda said.

Add to that the fact that much of the clientele at Chao’s are restaurants with certain ingredients the owners have to specially request in order to get them at Chao’s.

“We’re just expanding on our clientele,” Brenda said. “It’s been positive, but very busy.”

Although his mother worries about Burrows’ success in the business, Burrows has not had to take out a loan for the business.

The United States Small Business Administration (SBA) provides surety bonds, venture capital to Small Business Investment Companies and backs up loans  to small businesses. According to a report in New America Media based on data released to New America Media by the SBA, fewer SBA-backed loans are being given to those in racial minority groups.

The SBA’s America’s Recovery Capital program, a part of the $787 billion stimulus package, guarantees the loans made by banks and credit unions to small businesses so the banks and credit unions are at no risk.

According to the data, 92 percent of the ARC Stimulus loans to distressed small businesses were made to Caucasian business owners. Caucasians account for 82 percent of American business owners and 67 percent of the population.

Jonathan Swain, spokesman for the SBA in Washington, told NAM that any racial disparities in the ARC program don’t necessarily reflect racial disparities in the SBA’s loan practices. According to Swain, 37 percent of regular SBA loans and 29 percent of micro-loans went to business owners in racial minorities.

Even though starting a business at this time is difficult, business owners have some hope for the future.

“I’m sure when the economy picks up, more people will have money to buy food,” Burrows said.

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