From a booth inside Findlay Market in downtown Cincinnati, Isis Arieta-Dennis introduces South American culture to a passersby who bites into her signature arepas. She says Colombians consume arepas, flattened dough made of corn or maize and filled with ingredients, just like Americans eat bread.
The Colombian native is rolling in a little bit more dough after winning a $10,000 small business grant from Samuel Adams. The grants, some $24.5 million presented to food and beverage startups throughout the country in the past decade – are awarded to help small businesses thrive and create jobs in the community.
To win the grant, Arieta-Dennis had to pitch her business plan to a panel of five judges including Samuel Adams founder and brewer Jim Koch, a Cincinnati native. Now that arepas have proven to be their bread and butter, she and her husband, Christopher, have the additional funds to expand their food stand – The Arepa Place — into a more permanent restaurant within Findlay Market.
Libby Hikind, founder and CEO of GrantWatch.com, said corporations are fond of holding contests to gain publicity for their own brands while awarding grants to promote small businesses. Some of these and other annual funding opportunities can be identified on GrantWatch that lists grants for small businesses, particularly those owned by woman and minorities.
The Arepa Place competed against four other local food-and-beverage entrepreneurs during the Sam Adams “Brewing the American Dream” program’s Cincinnati stop, which featured a Pitch Room Competition and Speed Coaching event.
The Arepa Place came out on top, earning Arieta-Dennis a $10,000 business grant and extended speed coaching from the Sam Adams program, which has coached or mentored more than 8,000 small businesses since its inception in 2008.
With the grant money, Arieta-Dennis said her new restaurant will be able to house a small shop to sell Latino products, many of the items from local small businesses already located within Findlay Market. In the meantime, she will use part of the grant money to purchase a tilt skillet for soaking the oil and corn or maize used for making arepas.
Arieta-Dennis said arepas look like tortillas, but much thicker. After slicing them open like a pita, she fills them with mozzarella cheese, black beans, fried plantains, and shredded beef or chicken. When she mixes mozzarella into the corn dough before grilling the patties, she has created a “Colombian version of a grilled cheese.”
A foundation for The Arepa Place began two years ago at the Butler County Small Business Development Center, which, Arieta-Dennis credits with helping her identify startup tools including how to file for a license.