Blog: Special Features Story

Entrepreneurs Offer Much Needed Diversity in Sonoma County

Along Sebastopol Road in Santa Rosa, Calif., the air permeates with the sweet and tasty smells of various aromas coming from various establishments. Despite all the wonderful smells along this stretch of road, there are two entrepreneurs behind two of these establishments who have two things in common: they’re of either Latin or Hispanic descent and have been able to live out a goal of theirs of owning their own successful business.

According to the U.S. Census, in a report provided by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board (EDB), in 2007, there were 4,056 Hispanic-owned businesses in Sonoma County, with an estimated annual growth rate of eight percent per year, which is double the U.S. rate. This proves that the Hispanic and Latino populations are growing and it’s due in part to small businesses owners, who are in the service and trade industries.

In a larger city, like Santa Rosa, one tends to see more diversity than in towns such as Healdsburg. One area known for its diverse businesses is the Roseland District, which is home to numerous businesses owned and operated by Hispanic, and Latino business owners, but also caters to a variety of other businesses.

On any given hot day, you’ll probably find people looking for something to cool their taste buds with, like ice cream. But can any of them say they’ve tasted flavors like Corn, Rose Petal, Cucumber or Hay (yes, as in the type of food that horses eat)? For Hispanic entrepreneur and Frozen Art Gourmet Ice Cream and Paletas business owner, Jorge Alcázar, Jr., he has enjoyed creating new flavors since he first opened his shop in 2011.

At 26-year-old, Alcázar—who is from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico—has a good head for business, and it’s because ice cream runs through his blood. His father owned several successful ice cream shops, as did Alcázar’s great-uncles, in Tocumbo, Michoacan, the ice cream ‘capital’ of Mexico. However, becoming an entrepreneur in the United States wasn’t necessary what he had in mind.

Frozen Art Gourmet Ice Cream & Paletas entrepreneur Jorge Alcázar helping a customer. Photo: Christopher Chung, Press Democrat

Frozen Art Gourmet Ice Cream & Paletas entrepreneur Jorge Alcázar helping a customer. Photo: Christopher Chung, Press Democrat

“I was born into the business, being around my dad at all times and helping him with the shops in Mexico because at one point, we had up to 15 shops at one time, so I was out and about with my dad,” said Alcázar. “My vision when I was younger was that I was some type of business owner. I did see myself with an ice cream business, but not in the United States at all. This wasn’t in the picture.”

When Alcázar moved to the United States in mid-2006, his plans were to always return to Mexico. “I was never going to stay in the States. One thing led to another and my dad was pushing me to, ‘You should open your business,’ ” said Alcázar. At the time, Alcázar had been working at a restaurant [in Sonoma] for quite sometime and when the owners of the restaurant offered him a partnership, he didn’t want to do it. He then had a change of heart about opening up his own business. “Well, I guess this is the time. My dad, having been in the ice cream business for 40-plus years, you know, I’m looking up to him thinking, ‘Whatever he said, he must know what he’s talking about.’ ” Frozen Art Ice Cream eventually opened its doors in southwest Santa Rosa.

Strawberry paletas are just one of the many flavors available at Frozen Art. Photo: Facebook

Strawberry paletas are just one of the many flavors available at Frozen Art. Photo: Facebook.com

Alcázar is content that he didn’t have many hurdles to work through when he first opened Frozen Art. Recently, a good friend of his asked if he felt he had to do better (as an entrepreneur) because he’s Hispanic. Alcázar’s reply to his friend was no, he didn’t think this at all. He believes there were more hurdles because he was a small business owner. Alcázar’s first point of contact was with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which then pointed him towards the Small Business Development Center (SBDC); the SBDC informed him of a [workshop] class for start-ups and helped set him up with a business plan. The SBDC works with the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, which appointed Alcázar as a Board Member in September of this year.

Frozen Art Ice Cream offers 40 different ice cream flavors at all times and one thing Alcázar isn’t afraid of is trying new things. With the numerous ice cream shops located in Sonoma County, entrepreneurs like Alcázar must creatively reinvent his product so customers can keep coming back. Of course, there’s also the competition with other neighboring shops. “We do consider Screamin’ Mimi’s [in Sebastopol] our competition because they have good ice cream but it’s more expensive though. We really use high quality ingredients. We do see that with Screamin’ Mimi’s, but again, one of the advantages that we have is we venture with our flavors,” said Alcázar. He says that he receives many comments from customers, who keep coming back saying things like, “How do you even eat all this stuff”—referring to the various, unique flavors available at Frozen Art. Alcázar says his business stays relevant with new flavors and having as many flavors available to customers.

Speaking of variety, Alcázar says he gets inspired to create new flavors through some random things, while other ideas come from suggestions. He recalls working with the non-profit organization, The United Way, one time in which they had assigned a book for reading month; one of the books was titled “The First Tortilla” by Rudolfo Anaya. “They came to me and asked if I could get inspired by this. We can promote it for the entire month. And from then, we made the Cinnamon Tortilla ice cream,” said Alcázar.

Frozen Art employee Stephanie Avellaneda putting together an order for a customer. Photo: Jessie De La O

Frozen Art employee Stephanie Avellaneda putting together an order for a customer. Photo: Jessie De La O

One person who can confirm that not one customer—nor his or her order—is (all) alike is Stephanie Avellaneda, who has worked at Frozen Art for two and a half years. “I’ve had a customer who comes in and orders a milkshake with corn and cheese in it,” said Avellaneda. She said she gets a lot of joy talking to people and having new customers come in to experience the ice cream. “I recently had some college students come in and one of the girls just came in and went towards the paletas (Spanish for popsicles) and was so happy. That made my day,” said Avellaneda.

Another time Alcázar had to ‘think outside of the box’ was when he worked with a local chef in which the entire theme was farm-to-table. “He was having this farm-to-table dinner on a farm—literally—so he’s like, ‘Could you do something around that?’ ” The chef had literally brought Alcázar a block of hay to the shop. The result was hay ice cream, which is now only available upon request. “It wasn’t bad. For me, it tasted like Soy Milk, but it’s one of those flavors that the aroma, it’s a big part of it, like we have a Rose Petal or a Lavender ice cream,” said Alcázar. On the same day the hay was delivered, Alcázar’s father came to the shop and asked if that was hay he saw and if they now had horses, in which Alcázar replied, “I don’t know, but we’re making [Hay] ice cream.” Alcázar’s father called him ‘crazy,’ but the creativity he has put into creating unique and obscure flavors has helped catapult his shop’s success.

“Here’s the thing: all the flavors that my dad has said that were crazy are probably the biggest hits. So I guess that’s where we venture off from the traditional ice cream,” said Alcázar. Another thing that has helped Frozen Art in producing a variety of different flavors is that Alcázar uses ingredients from all over the world, including tropical fruits from Latin America—including Guatemala and Peru—as well as many spices from the Middle East, such as Tahini and Cardamon. Other ice cream and popsicle flavors include: Avocado, Mamey fruit, Watermelon, Tequila, Maracuya (Passion Fruit) and Arroz con Leche (Rice with Milk).

Customer Hugo Siete enjoys a Rompope (Spanish for an Eggnog-like drink) ice cream cone at Frozen Art Gourmet Ice Cream and Paletas. Photo: Jessie De La O

Customer Hugo Siete enjoys a Rompope (Spanish for Eggnog) ice cream cone at Frozen Art Gourmet Ice Cream and Paletas. Photo: Jessie De La O

Regular Frozen Art customer Hugo Siete from Santa Rosa said he comes by the shop numerous times and said it was the first ice cream shop in Sonoma County with true ‘Michoacana’ heritage, tracing back to Tocumbo, Mexico, where the brand originated. “The ice cream here is really good. This is the original ice cream shop and the best one,” said Siete.

Success for Alcázar’s Frozen Art means having to make some sacrifices—such as when his friends tell him that he never goes out anymore. As Alcázar puts it, “At the end of the day, I get to walk out of the shop and I know it’s mine, and I’m building something. It’s a good feeling of being your own boss and getting to do your own thing. It might be harder, but I had the vision of it. Just working towards it is satisfying.” Alcázar also defines success as having patience, diligence, a good character and being able to help those around you. “I truly believe in life that if you do well, good things will come to you. Hard work pays off and just being honest,” said Alcázar.

Someone who is familiar with Alcázar’s hard work is Marcos J. Suarez, Business Diversity Program Manager with Sonoma County Economic Development Board (EDB). Suarez, a former EDB member himself, said Supervisor Efren Carrillo had identified Alcázar as a possible candidate to be on the Board to represent the Fifth District. “I know Jorge as well. As far as me being a past board member, I reached out to Jorge because I felt that he might be a great asset to have on the Economic Development Board,” said Suarez.

Although Alcázar hasn’t been able to contribute much to the Economic Development Board since he’s only been a member since August 2015, he’ll get the opportunity to do so in no time at all. “He’ll get a little bit more involved in committees or in any projects that we’ll have here going forward, because the Economic Development Board, we’re always looking at what is coming and always being proactive in terms of the economy. So that’s kind of what his [Jorge’s] role is and looking at how he can get engaged.”

Suarez said Alcázar’s willingness to work hard and do the things that are needed to succeed made him a good candidate for the Board position. “When he started his business, he took workshops with the Small Business Development Center and he really exemplifies what…willing to do your homework when it comes to business. You need to take the workshops, you need to have a business plan going and look at what it’s going to take to really take the right steps in starting your business. And a business plan is very crucial to starting any business and he’s exemplified that,” said Suarez.

According to Suarez, another thing that makes Alcázar a success is giving back to his community. “He donates for fundraising events and when a business gives back to the community, that is a role to follow. That’s what really makes community and that really exemplifies a great business that is local and that invests and gives back to the community. So Jorge and Frozen Art really represent that here in the County of Sonoma,” said Suarez.

And what does the future look like for Alcázar? “I still see myself with the business, but branching out, maybe looking for other options and opportunities, on top of the ice cream business,” said Alcázar. But first, in 2016, he plans on transferring from Santa Rosa Junior College to complete his business degree.

The sign that greets customers as they walk in. Photo: Jessie De La O

The sign that greets customers as they walk in. Photo: Jessie De La O

Jose Navarro opened Sazón Peruvian Cuisine five years ago with his father. Photo: Jessie De La O

Jose Navarro opened Sazón Peruvian Cuisine five years ago with his father. Photo: Jessie De La O

For 44-year-old Latino entrepreneur Jose Navarro, who’s originally from Lima, Peru, it’s about having a positive attitude and trying new things. In August 2010, he and his father, Juan Luis, opened Sazón Peruvian Cuisine in the Roseland District, in Santa Rosa. Navarro, who manages the restaurant, menus and staff, recently bought the adjacent deli, aptly titled Sazón Deli, which had already been in the same location for a number of years. However, owning his own business sort of just happened to him.

“It was 2010 when the economy was really bad. I was in sales and it was kind of like a dead-end job, so me and my dad, and my brother at the time, we talked about owning a little restaurant. We found this little spot here in Roseland, and talked to the landlord. And then we got the lease and started cleaning it up and remodeled it a little bit,” said Navarro. In addition, Navarro said that when they first opened the restaurant, it didn’t cost them a lot of money. In fact, what was important at the time was that it was a small place, which wouldn’t require too much overhead.

When Sazón first opened, Navarro said he made sure that everything on the menu was consistent, tasty and authentic, and then went from there. He thanks the Internet and social media, which has helped get the word out about the restaurant. “A lot of people have come and tried us out, and they keep coming back and bringing more people. It’s been real successful for us, knock on wood,” said Navarro. He also said websites like Yelp, Seat Me and Trip Advisory have helped bring in more customers, saying, “Good or bad. Bad reviews are good too. Good reviews are great.”

Sazón Peruvian Cuisine is located in Santa Rosa's Roseland District. Photo: Jessie De La O

Sazón Peruvian Cuisine is located in Santa Rosa’s Roseland District. Photo: Jessie De La O

With the booming tourism and wine industries in Sonoma County, Navarro never once considered opening his restaurant in a town like Healdsburg or Sonoma since he lives in Santa Rosa. He didn’t have a lot of money when he first opened Sazón, so he bought used equipment and made due with what he had. Also, the price to rent the building where the restaurant is located was just right, which was fortunate for Navarro. “It just kind of fell in our lap kind-of-thing. It really is a gift. You know, I’m a firm believer that if you have something good to offer people, they’re going to drive and come try you,” said Navarro.

The different foods found on Sazón’s menu are inspired by Navarro’s native country of Peru, having eaten similar types of food there since he was born. “Our food is influenced by Chinese and Japanese, European, African, plus [the] people from Peru, indigenous people, so our food touches on all those cultures and the mix is very unique…very beautiful. So that’s what inspires us,” said Navarro. “We keep coming up with new stuff and we put in our own twist into things. That’s why it’s called Sazón, which means ‘seasoning flavor.’ So in this case, it would be our seasoning and flavor straight from Peru.” Sazón waitress Dulce Sanchez, agrees 100 percent with Navarro regarding Sazon’s food being inspirational. “They [customers] say the Ceviche is their most favorite they’ve had. They’ve said they’ve had it at a couple of places in downtown San Francisco, but that it’s nowhere as good like it is here at Sazón. Some people are Peruvian who come here, so they say that the food [here] is very much like how they used to have it or how their parents used to cook it as well,” said Sanchez.

What has helped Navarro stay successful with owning Sazón is his strong work ethic and always staying positive. He says he came to the U.S. at the age of 10 with nothing, then built and worked hard towards his goals. “Opportunities do come to you if you work hard and have a positive attitude too. I’m a firm believer in that it comes to you. Life rewards you, but you also have to be humble,” said Navarro. “You have to take chances and you have to keep trying new things. You learn so much and you want to do things better. When you still have that drive, it motivates you to want to come to work because there’s still more to be done.”

The Lomo Saltado is a traditional Peruvian dish. Photo: Jessie De La O

The Lomo Saltado is a traditional Peruvian dish. Photo: Jessie De La O

Navarro’s other recipe for success is just being happy and making sure his customers are happy too. “They love coming here and they leave with a smile. How good things are, that’s all a part of being successful. You know you’re doing the right thing,” said Navarro. One customer who is always content when she comes to Sazón is Peruvian Isabel Yataco from Marin. “I like everything [about the restaurant], including the attention and the very friendly staff. You feel like family here,” said Yataco. She said she drives from Marin to Santa Rosa just to eat at Sazón because San Francisco is too far for her. “I like it here better and it’s closer to my home,” said Yataco. One of Yataco’s favorite dishes is the Lomo Saltado.

Dessert is served! From left to right: Mazamorra Morada (made from purple corn & fruit) and Alfajores (a Caramel sandwich), which are traditional Peruvian desserts. Photo: Jessie De La O

Dessert is served! From left to right: Mazamorra Morada and Alfajores, which are traditional Peruvian desserts. Photo: Jessie De La O

And what does Navarro and Sazón’s future look like? Navarro said he’d like to get married and have children someday. As for Sazón’s future, he sees building a business and keeping it at high standard for himself and for his employees, holding them accountable for everything. “The success… if I do good, they’re going to do good. That’s where I see it going.”

Jose Navarro and family recently opened Sazón Deli, which is adjacent to the restaurant. Photo: Jessie De La O

Jose Navarro and family recently opened Sazón Deli, which is adjacent to the restaurant. Photo: Jessie De La O

So how important are Latino and Hispanic businesses to a community, especially here in Sonoma County? According to Sonoma State University (SSU) professor, Dr. Liz Thach, Distinguished Professor of Wine and Management at SSU’s School of Business and Economics Department (SBE), these businesses are very important not only to the county, but to all of California. “This is especially true now that the Hispanic population in California is the majority consumer segment. It’s important for Hispanic businesses to be part of the larger community by providing products and services to this important segment. Also, some of the marketing research on the Hispanic consumer suggests they like to make purchases from businesses run by other Hispanics,” said Thach.

There’s always room for more Latino and Hispanic businesses in the area, so for those who are looking to start their own business, Thach offers a few suggestions. “They need to study books and websites on how to start and run a successful business, as well as talk to other people who have done this successfully. I always recommend that people look at the website of the US Small Business Administration, which has lots of useful information. Especially important is creating a business plan, and they have great templates to help you do this,” said Thach. In addition, Thach advises that prospective entrepreneurs should also consider doing an external analysis to examine the market opportunities for their business, as well as to analyze existing competition to see if the business has an opportunity to succeed. They also need to research and document all of the costs to start the business, including needed permits, facilities, supplies, advertising, hiring employees, etc. One final suggestion is they will need to project revenues, intending the revenues are going to be much higher than costs, so they can make a profit.

And Hispanic and Latino businesses will continue to grow. Nationally, in 2007, there were 2.6 million Hispanic-owned business and in 2012, there were 3.32 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the U.S.; therefore, between 2007 and 2015, that’s a 57 percent increase. According to a Geoscape report, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the U.S. projected for 2015 is 4.07 million.

“We’re still waiting for [county] numbers to come up for 2012 but the numbers have been growing,” said Suarez. “Hispanic businesses are growing at a rate of eight percent a year, which is about double the general public. They’re all facing the general populations interims of Hispanic businesses are growing at a faster rate.” The same Geoscape report showed that from 2007 to 2015, the aggregate revenue for Hispanic-owned businesses in the U.S. was projected at $661 billion dollars in sales, which is an 88 percent increase. And how has the State of California faired with Hispanic-owned businesses? According to the same report, the Pacific Census division continues to be the largest division for Hispanic-owned businesses, with a 22 percent increase since 2012 and projects 1,057,301 Hispanic-owned businesses by 2015.

With the variety of goods and services that Latino and Hispanic entrepreneurs offer to the community of Sonoma County, there is one absentee market that has yet to be covered. According to Dr. Robert Eyler, SSU Interim Dean of Extended and International Education, he said that there’s still a need for legal and accounting services that are specific to people that may have a dual life here in California, as well as somewhere else, like Central America.

With the dedication, the many sacrifices and hard work that entrepreneurs Jorge Alcázar and Jose Navarro have put into their respective businesses, it has only proven that each has a taste for success.

Frozen Art Gourmet Ice Cream and Paletas, 500 Sebastopol Rd., Santa Rosa, open 11:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m., seven days a week.

Sazón Peruvian Cuisine, 1129 Sebastopol Rd., Santa Rosa, open Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., and Sunday, from 11 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

 

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