A journalist and venture capitalist found plenty of inspiration while writing their book on Black, brown, and women entrepreneurs, but also systems that need changing if these new founders are to succeed.
Sweet Grace Heavenly Cakes was born in 2008, as the Great Recession ripped through the United States, particularly affecting working-class communities like Lawrence, Massachusetts. Danaris Mazara can identify the exact minute the bakery was born, in fact. She was lying on her couch, staring at the drop ceiling of her rented house.
She had $37 in food stamps to her name, given to her by her mother who had stopped by earlier in the day to offer her support. “I know you are going through a hard time,” she said, handing the coupons to her daughter.
Danaris worked at Samsung and was about to start her shift. Despite having that job, it wasn’t enough to cover rent and food. Her husband, Andres, was out of work and sliding into depression. The closure of Haverhill Paperboard, a local manufacturer that had been operating for more than 100 years, cost him and 173 other workers their jobs. Danaris and Andres had lost their house and declared bankruptcy.
“What are you going to do with $37 in food stamps?” Danaris asked herself, staring at that ceiling. “In a couple of days, you won’t have anything to feed your family, because that is not enough to buy groceries.”
Their baby daughter Grace was asleep nearby. She had been conceived after a string of miscarriages. Danaris desperately wanted to stay home with her, but her family couldn’t afford to lose her income. This balancing act, baby, factory job, depressed husband, was not for her. She was sure this was not the life she was meant to be leading.
Danaris believes in God, and at that moment a divinely inspired thought came into her head: “Make flan.”
From that beginning, her business was born. She sold the flan on the break room table at Samsung, generating enough for more ingredients. Then, Danaris learned how to make cakes from the women in her community – and then, heard about a program, EforAll, that helped her become more profitable and find capital. With her good fortune in being inspired to start a business and finding the help she needed at the right time, Danaris now, nearly 15 years later, employs more than a dozen women and has a storefront on Essex Street in Lawrence, home to a thriving Dominican and Puerto Rican community.