When Pedro Benedito Chimo Mandriz’s family returned to their home country of Angola, he stayed in the U.S. to pursue his dream of running his own restaurant.
Years later, the Lorton baker has taken a step to turning that dream into a reality after starting a pastry business in 2021 with the help of Escala, a rebooted counseling and business assistance program run by the nonprofit Northern Virginia Family Service.
Mandriz, 29, is one of 100 people who have benefited from Escala during the pandemic.
While working part-time at Manchester Bagel in Franconia, he took a class with Escala and launched Freaking Good Cakes, which specializes in German fruit cakes but also offers cupcakes and custom orders, all made out of his home.
“I was having the idea that to have or own a business in America, the only way is by doing…loans, and they showed me, no, that’s not the only way,” Mandriz said. “It helped open my eyes.”
Escala started in 2001 and stopped in 2017 before being rebooted during the pandemic. Its name comes from the Spanish verb escalar, meaning to climb, a nod to the program’s bilingual services.
The program’s small business counselor, Liga Brige, helps entrepreneurs develop their business ideas with marketing and financial assessments, frequently helping startups launch from owners’ homes.
“The majority of businesses established during those past years were usually in construction, in day care…in cleaning businesses and food,” Brige said.
During the pandemic, Escala’s participants have typically focused on the culinary arts, including female food service workers who realize they can prepare certain foods out of their homes, Brige says.
Known as food cottage laws, Virginia’s code lets private homes make some low-risk items without a food inspection, from baked goods to candies, dry seasonings, roasted coffee, and more.
“There are laws which allow you to produce from home certain foods, certain products which do not require a lot of licensing,” Brige said.
Most participants in Escala are Hispanic women, typically aged 36 to 55. Many were professional chefs in the hospitality industry and affected by the pandemic, while others were cooking out of their homes.
Escala’s successes so far include:
- Pizza Pita 24, a food truck that Colombian David Levy runs with his family
- Arepa Zone, Venezuelan cuisine with locations in D.C. and a commercial kitchen in Fairfax
- Dolce Amore Sweets, a Peruvian bakery and pastry shop in Manassas owned by Jennifer Solis
The program relies on government funding, and Northern Virginia Family Service plans to seek more grant money to expand Escala from Fairfax and Arlington counties for their upcoming fiscal years, which start in July.
Liga currently serves as the one-stop shop coordinator, but she hopes to have another counselor provide assistance to reach as many industries as possible.
Restricted to low-income adults in Virginia, D.C., and Maryland, the program offers counseling and workshops for free. A nine-week course costs $300.
Mandriz’s ultimate goal is to run his own restaurant that serves food from his country. His advice to new entrepreneurs? Take risks and listen to others’ expertise.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Most of the people that want to go into business…they should be open to [listening] to other people’s information. They’re going to have a solid ground where they can build their business.”
Good Friday evening! Today we published 7 articles that were read a total of 7366 times on FFXnow alone, so far. 📈 Top stories The following are the most-read articles…
A dog was chained up and shot this morning in the residential neighborhood behind the Woodlawn Shopping Center in Mount Vernon, police say. Officers responded to the area of Bedford…
The Rotary Club of McLean will peer back into the colonial era this weekend for its 11th annual chocolate festival. Set to return this Sunday (Jan. 29), the McLean Chocolate…
The Herndon Festival will return this year in the summer, bringing back a tradition that was scaled back to a carnival last year. The festival is set to take place…
Linjee Thai Restaurant Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Publishing Notice.
Hi, my name is Moneim Z., and I am a blind male with chronic kidney disease, who needs a living kidney donor for a transplant. My blood type is B+, and I can accept a kidney from individuals who have blood types B and O.
To read my story, please see the attached letter.
To contact me directly, please email me at email@example.com or call at 571-428-5065. My living donor coordinator at INOVA Hospital, Amileen Cruz can be reached at (703) 776-8370 , or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.