Visionary African-American Woman Entrepreneur Impacts Community Through the Power of Food
Food. Three times a day. It’s just a way to fuel our bodies so we can work, play and enjoy life, right? Not so fast, says Los Angeles entrepreneur Olympia Auset.
“Food is power” she said. “It directly and indirectly affects so many things.”
It was only a few years ago, while away at college, that Olympia developed a passion for high-quality, low-cost organic food as well as an appetite for improving the health of families and communities in South L.A. She started to connect the dots between access to good food and health, medical costs, education and long-range economic stability and wealth.
In the wake of national grocery store desertion, SÜPRMARKT steps in
Olympia painted the problem this way: over the years, national grocery stores have deserted South L.A., leaving residents to rely on convenience stores and fast-food restaurants for their daily food needs, options that are both expensive and nutritionally barren. Obesity rates are 13 percent higher than the L.A. County average and 25 percent higher than West L.A. One in six children are classified as significantly overweight.
“I started to look beyond the statistics and came to realize they applied to my friends and family…real people,” she said.
Convinced that providing access to low-cost, organic food was the fix the community needed, she launched SÜPRMARKT, a pop-up produce store located in farmer’s markets. Since its inception in 2016, Süprmarkt has sold more than 70,000 pounds of affordable fresh fruit, vegetables and seeds to L.A. shoppers. Partnering with the South Central Food Cooperative, she’s able to offer a wider variety of fresh produce than is typically contained in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box of food.
“Organic food doesn’t have to be expensive,” Olympia said, addressing the stereotype. “If a particular type of produce is too expensive at a certain time, we won’t offer it until the price comes down. We want to be an affordable alternative to more expensive food chains.”
The search for a permanent SÜPRMARKT home
The challenges of street vending eventually began to wear on Olympia, so she began searching for a permanent home for her business, property she soon found in an historic eatery on Slauson Avenue that had recently closed. A trusted advisor led her to the door of CDC Small Business Finance and its Impower loan program.
“We launched the Impower loan program to make a powerful impact in low- and moderate-income (LMI) neighborhoods by providing entrepreneurs like Olympia an affordable way to buy commercial real estate and create jobs,” said Kurt Chilcott, president of CDC Small Business Finance.
“We launched the Impower loan program to make a powerful impact in low- and moderate-income (LMI) neighborhoods by providing entrepreneurs an affordable way to buy commercial real estate and create jobs.”
CDC Small Business Finance
Many small business owners with average credit struggle to access financing and turn to alternative lenders that offer high-interest loans that restrict working capital and increase the chance of early default. The Impower loan program is an affordable trusted option designed to support long-term success.
Impower loan program offers impact capital
CDC Small Business Finance’s Impower program serves as a viable option for California entrepreneurs looking to purchase a building for their business who cannot qualify for an SBA 504 loan (for commercial real estate purchases) or conventional financing. The Impower commercial real estate loan features a seven-year term, a 5.5 percent fixed interest rate and interest-only payments for the first 36 months. Borrowers must have a credit score of at least 670 and the business financials need to demonstrate adequate repayment ability. Properties being purchased must be located in a designated LMI tract.
Olympia applied for the Impower loan with the help of CDC Small Business Finance’s Dean Aloe, VP, senior commercial lender, and Tony Barengo, vice president of credit.
“I was so impressed with how expeditious Dean and Tony were,” Olympia recalled. “My questions were always answered the same day or next. I’m grateful to them both and CDC.”
Although personal character doesn’t get enough emphasis in traditional lending circles when evaluating potential borrowers, CDC Small Business Finance took special note of Olympia’s determination and commitment.
“Olympia radiates a deep passion for improving her community through high-quality food,” said Tony. “We’re confident she’ll show that impact capital and the power of ownership can accelerate positive change.”
Since receiving the Impower financing to purchase SÜPRMARKT’s permanent home, Olympia has been busy fundraising and orchestrating the build-out of her new, two-story space. The first floor will be devoted to retail produce, prepared foods and dried goods sales, while the upstairs and outside deck will become the venue for wellness and cooking classes, after the Covid-19 pandemic subsides. She also plans to expand SÜPRMARKT’s digital platform to allow for greater food box customization and increased digital education.
But first things first. Olympia is targeting late February or early March to unveil her new SÜPRMARKT store to the South L.A. neighborhood.
“We want to end food apartheid in the world,” Olympia said. “We’re just starting in South L.A.”
Note: SÜPRMARKT accepts EBT (electronic benefit transfer) for low-income residents enrolled in California’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).