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From Farmers Markets to Mobile Ordering: How One Latino Small Business is Adapting to the Pandemic

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By: Celina Maluf

In the spring of this year, many Latino-owned businesses were shut down due to COVID-19. But business owners like Orlando Osornio and his wife, Denise, exemplify the resilient spirit of Latino entrepreneurs during a time of uncertainty.

The Osornios started selling Mexican tortas in 2018 at farmers’ markets in their hometown of Salinas, California. At the beginning of this year, they decided to expand their business and become food truck owners of Tortas al 100. But in March, COVID-19 hit and halted their expansion. 

When the Osornios were told to stay shut, they didn’t just close shop. Instead, they designed a mobile app, “to prepay orders so that my staff wouldn’t have to handle money and we didn’t have to handle debit cards,” Orlando explains. 

This new approach helped ease the transition into a contact-less reality by avoiding the use of money, so customers could simply pick up and go, and Osorino’s staff could stay safe. “It was really just grab and go, so that allowed us to open up again,” he added. 

During this tough time, Osornio is grateful for the app which gave him and his wife the opportunity to reach their audience in a new way. “If it wasn’t for technology, and being able to make it easier for the consumer, we would have taken a bigger hit,” he says. Due to restrictions in the city of Salinas, they have moved their truck over to neighboring city Monterey. This November, Osornio hopes to start picking up the pace at Tortas al 100 by opting to accept walking traffic, while still offering the option to place mobile orders online. 

Latino-owned businesses contributed just over $500 billion to the economy in annual sales in 2019, according to a study from Stanford University. Employing nearly 3 million people, this study shows Latino small businesses account for an average of 4% of U.S business revenues and 5.5% of U.S employment. 

But between February and April 2020, the number of Latino-owned businesses dropped from 2.1 million to 1.4 million, a 32 percent decline. This drop is the consequence of the widespread shutdown earlier this year, according to a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research

After seeing the devastating effects COVID-19 has had on small businesses, Osornio encourages people to support their local shops this upcoming holiday season. He also wants consumers to understand the lasting impact of shopping locally. “When a small business makes food purchases, more times than not, that small business is consuming from those same grocery stores in the city where that money is then going back to the community,” said Osornio. 

This article is brought to you through a nonprofit, newsroom partnership with our friends at Project Pulso. Click here to learn more about Project Pulso.