San Francisco puts money in Filipino heritage district
SAN FRANCISCO – Since its establishment on April 12, 2016, SOMA Pilipinas has been on a steady path of creating the Filipino cultural heritage district in the South of Market.
To begin activating the area and jumpstart the district’s economic activity, SOMA Pilipinas together with Kultivate Labs, anon-profit business accelerator that aims to create a thriving commercial ecosystem for businesses in the district, launched UNDISCOVERED SF, a seasonal and monthly creative night market on April 18, 2017 using a $125,000 grant from the city and an additional $41,000 raised from a crowd funding campaign.
The night market proved to be a runaway success, generating $250,000 of economic activity and drawing 35,000 people to the district.
With the huge economic potential of SOMA Pilipinas validated, San Francisco again recently gave its support through the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD) with a total investment of $316,250 for the district’s continuing economic development.
The funding will allow SOMA Pilipinas tomove forward with plans to start a merchant association, a pop-up to permanent retail incubator program, more events, and to conduct neighborhood marketing.
“Investments like these expand opportunities for local emerging entrepreneurs, celebrate the rich cultural history and experience of the Filipino community, and create local attractions to bring people to this neighborhood,” says OEWD Director Joaquín Torres.
“Through food and art, we are supporting the vitality of the Filipino cultural district and nurturing a diverse generation of new small businesses in San Francisco,” Torres added.
Separately, the National Endowment for the Arts issued a $100,000 grant to be used to identify and design place-making opportunities in the district. On October 2018, SOMA Pilipinas pole banners with images of prominent members of the community went up around the district as the initial result of the arts grant.
UNDISCOVERED SF, returning as a holiday pop-up for the winter season on December 1 at Colorbloq, an event space in SOMA opening to the public for the first time, also received an additional $30,000 grant from The San Francisco Foundation this month.
Bounded by Market Street to the north, Brannan Street to the south, 11th Street to the west, and 2nd Street to the east, SOMA Pilipinas is a testament to over a century of Filipino history and presence in the South of Market.
According to Kultivate Labs executive director and economic development chairman of SOMA Pilipinas, Desi Danganan, UNDISCOVERED SF was the first step in their economic development plans “to aggregate our emerging entrepreneurs in one place and identify winning concepts to invest in to accelerate their growth in the cultural district. Unlike the old ways of nepotism that have plagued our mother country, we allow the market to decide who we should invest in and not because you’re somebody cousin or brother-in-law.”
The second step in the economic development plan is a business accelerator program known as SOMA Economic and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED) by Kultivate Labs in partnership with the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center.
SEED was launched in September 2018 and six food or retail businesses were selected among 17 applicants from an “online call for applications for SOMA Pilipinas based businesses.”
“We narrowed them down to 10 possible candidates that we interviewed and whittled down to the final six,” says Danganan. “It was tough to get down to the final six, but the most important criterion was could we help them with the resources available to us and could our impact be measured.”
The final six businesses are two Filipino pop-up restaurants, Pinoy Heritage and Alchemy Kitchen;The Sarap Shop, a Filipino food truck and catering business; Arkipelago Books, one of only two Filipino specialty bookstores in the country and a neighborhood institution for 20 years; Mestiza Taqueria; and Covo, a co-working space.
With the success of UNDISCOVERED, OCHD “has given us a modest $35,000 to test our next step—investing directly in the success of our businesses.” Danganan says that they are working with each business to map out growth and determine business elements that are lacking and generate the necessary steps to make it happen.
“You could be an extremely successful food truck with sales over a $100,000 a month, but in the rush to generate revenue that food truck never setup proper accounting to track their expenses to ensure they are truly profitable,” says Danganan. “What SEED will do is actually create your accounting system, managing it for a few months, then teach you to run it properly.”
The first batch of entrepreneurs in the SEED program is unanimous about the benefits that it will bring to their business as well as to the district.
“We love the program!” says The Sarap Shop co-founder and CEO, Kristen Brillantes. “Developing this cultural district is tough work and it’s important that it’s filled with representation from local Filipino business owners.”
“It encourages Filipino/Fil-Am entrepreneurs to not only own and operate their businesses within the district, but to be a part of our great community. Without community, there is no growth,” says Alchemy Kitchen chef and owner, Ronnie Taylor.
“We are so thrilled to be a part of it! It’s really refreshing to see an accelerator that supports non-tech companies,” says Covo CEO, Rebecca Pan. “It’s rare, but there are so many companies like mine that can really use the boost this program provides.
They are seeing to benefit the most from the marketing and public relations (PR) components of the program.
“With San Francisco being over saturated with restaurants and being a pop-up restaurant, Marketing and PR is absolutely needed to succeed,” says acclaimed chef and Pinoy Heritage owner Francis Ang.
“With Renaissance and Kultivate Labs’ assistance, I’d like to create awareness that there is a new wave of Filipino owned establishments here in San Francisco,” says Taylor.
“We will be leveraging the marketing and PR components the most, to launch a new program here at Covo,” says Pan “This program will help entrepreneurs maintain momentum and build resilience.”
It is their hope that the program will generate more exposure needed to grow their business and to eventually gain the stability to thrive in a district that they represent and belong to.
“We hope the program will help us sell out our weekly pop-ups and eventually help us gain a brick and mortar in the near future,” says Ang.
“My intention for this program is not only to gain exposure to the general public through our food and story, but to also prove SOMA Pilipinas can ‘kultivate’ sustainable Filipino owned food and beverage institutions,” says Taylor.
The first SEED batch of entrepreneurs and the success of the program are extremely crucial to the long-term plans of Danganan and his team.
“We want to develop measurable results for our incubated companies. We want to turn our $35,000 into $70,000 in revenue or cost savings for our six companies so we can continue to do this program and offer it to more businesses so we can accomplish our long-term vision of populating SOMA Pilipinas with a variety of vibrant and resilient Filipino owned companies.”