Opening and expanding a business during a pandemic is tricky. And every time Jeff and Patti Dewes tried to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan they were told Tillie’s Tafel didn’t qualify.
Northern Initiatives, a community development financial institution, helped 74 small businesses get Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans in the first five months of 2021.
The PPP loans have been a lifeline to many during this pandemic, but they have also been frustrating, especially for microbusinesses, sole proprietors and farms. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the largest eligible businesses got their money first, while businesses trying to get loans under $50K had to wait weeks or months. Even before the pandemic, low-income communities had disproportionate access to financial products. During the pandemic, most PPP loans didn’t reach a great share of businesses in the lowest-income communities.
Northern Initiatives (NI) wanted to fix that disparity and reached out to colleagues, friends, and partners to find businesses that have been left behind. We had referrals from more than two dozen sources.
Since the beginning of 2021, Northern Initiatives has:
• Helped 87 small businesses get PPP loans;
• Loaned $1,023,260 in PPP funds;
• Made 52% of its PPP loans to diverse borrowers:
• Made loans in 36 counties in Michigan.
The 125-year-old cinnamon roll recipe from Germany has been passed on through generations but Jeff and Patti Dewes have taken it to a new level.
The couple, newly retired last summer with a Plan A that fell through due to the pandemic, started selling the family cinnamon rolls at farmers markets. Since then, they’ve opened a bakery, expanded the kitchen to include the space next door, added wholesale accounts, catered wedding brunches and baby showers and are planning on being able to ship cinnamon rolls in time for the holidays.
Tillie’s Tafel now has a storefront in downtown Petoskey. Tillie is Jeff’s grandma; “tafel” (“tah-full”) is one of the German words for table.
Opening and expanding a business during a pandemic is tricky. The Dewes got some federal grants that helped with a website, marketing and advertising. But every time they tried to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan they were told they didn’t qualify. They eventually gave up and, in March, turned to Northern Initiatives for a Small Business Administration microloan.
Lisa Kotler, an NI contractor who helped with our PPP efforts this year, told the couple that changes to the PPP guidelines might now make them eligible. A quick call to the accountant, who was working on their taxes right then, qualified Tillie’s Tafel. (They ended up not needing the microloan.)
The funds used to finance the Dewes’ PPP loan came from the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Community Foundation, which invested in Northern Initiatives to help small businesses and entrepreneurs in Emmet County. The Dewes used the money to cover payroll expenses and filed the documentation needed to turn the loan into a grant. The SBA reimbursed Northern Initiatives and the resources are now available for another small business.
Tillie’s Tafel employs 15 people, including the Dewes and their daughter Allie, the store manager. Their first employee, hired last year to help out in a rented kitchen to keep up with demand at farmers markets, owns the chickens that supply the eggs used in the cinnamon rolls.
Just learning how to make one batch of cinnamon rolls from the family recipe took two years, Jeff said. He had “no baking experience whatsoever.” Scaling up the recipe to make 144 rolls for the first farmers market (sold out in 45 minutes) took even more time. Gauging demand for a product that’s made fresh daily is one of tricky parts of the business, but the Dewes have found a happy solution – they donate any cinnamon rolls not sold by closing time to schools, hospitals, first responders, nonprofits and others.
Quazaa Mayberry’s business model is a bit unorthodox, but it works. Mayberry is a Grand Rapids street vendor who sells at pop-up shops and flea markets. His shop, Quazaam’s, sells clothing, masks, bags, T-shirts, boots, bed linens and more.
The pandemic hit him hard “financially, emotionally and mentally.” His wife tested positive for COVID-19 but has since recovered. His main flea market closed down (unrelated to the pandemic, but quite a hit) and shipping was a nightmare. Plus, “every vendor I was working with shut down,” Mayberry said.
The closed flea market was especially hard because it had been in the same location, near Mayberry’s home, for 40 years. “I remember going there as a kid.” He could count on 3,000 people wandering through each weekend. The lot was sold to a developer, who built an apartment complex.
He had no luck applying for federal relief, mostly because he’s “a one-man show.” But then a referral from Rende Progress Capital, a minority-led nonprofit CDFI in Grand Rapids that Northern Initiatives has worked with regularly, connected him with NI President Elissa Sangalli. “We appreciate Rende’s efforts to close the racial wealth gap and were pleased to be able to support one of their customers,” said Sangalli, who then connected him with Kathy Leone, NI Credit Manager and the head of our PPP team.
Leone knew the Small Business Administration had changed the qualifications for PPP loans in the third round, so she made sure Mayberry got his loan as a sole proprietor. “Kathy was a gem,” Mayberry said. “She was great to work with, patient, she answered all my questions. By the grace of God, I was able to get a loan.”
The Grand Rapids Community Foundation invested money in NI and requested that it go to help people of color entrepreneurs and small businesses in the Grand Rapids area. Those resources were used to fund Mayberry’s loan.
“I’m strategizing now,” Mayberry said. “That’s why I needed some working capital, so I could come up with some new strategies.” He’s working on an e-commerce site and still selling at pop-up events. Another idea is to team up with local jewelry makers for parties where they can all sell their goods.
He has hundreds of contacts in his phone that he reaches out to regularly, when there are new items for sale or if he’ll have a booth somewhere. “I’ve been blessed with them patronizing me instead of going to a regular store,” he said. He especially likes working with other small businesses because “I always learn from someone else’s experience.”