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A Delicious Recipe for Successful Latina-Owned Small Businesses

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Chocolate is one of Mexico's many contributions to the world. There is an ancient Mayan myth that says the cacao beans were given to men by the gods. Mayans were also entrepreneurs with extensive production and distribution of goods and resources outside of their cities. Fast forward to 2012 ...

Amelia Gonzalez and Arcelia Gallardo figured out how to combine the legacies of their Mesoamerican ancestors with a passion for Latino culture, arts and business. After building impressive careers in corporate America, the two friends joined forces to start a unique artisan chocolate shop called Casa de Chocolates (www.casadechocolates.com). Casa de Chocolates features inventive flavor combinations -- dark chocolate paired with chipotle, Oaxacan mezcal, maracuya or passion fruit, chile mango, tamarindo -- emblematic of the rich foods and flavors of Latin America.

Gonzalez and Gallardo opened Casa de Chocolates' first retail location and artisan kitchen in Berkeley, CA, this past year drawing inspiration from traditional chocolates, desserts, flavors and the cultures of Mexico, Central America and South America. Within a year, they have received rave reviews from Travel & Leisure Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, Latina Magazine and others. With the integrity of the chocolates as a priority, the products are unique creations made from whole, high quality, natural ingredients.

And that "integrity," beyond the chocolate, was part of the business plan ... a precise plan that involved much more than numbers.

First, the entrepreneurs selected Berkeley because of the region's history of supporting small entrepreneurs who seek to create wholesome products that are consistent with the sustainable food movement. The socially-conscious Latinas also made a commitment to the community and partner with others in the Bay Area who share their vision for sustainable business and community-building. They have also purposely partnered with cocoa farmers in Mexico and Central America to ensure the farmers benefit from the growing market for artisan chocolates in the United States.

That holistic approach has provided a strong foundation for yet another successful Latina-owned small business, which is very important in moving America forward economically.

According to the latest Census Bureau findings, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States increased by 43.7 percent to 2.3 million, more than twice the national rate of 18.0 percent between 2002 and 2007. Hispanic-owned businesses generated $345.2 billion in sales in 2007, up 55.5 percent compared with 2002 and the number of Hispanic-owned businesses with receipts of $1 million or more increased 51.6 percent between 2002 and 2007. Those numbers are projected to grow even more exponentially by the next Census. And in a five-year period, businesses owned by women increased to 1.3 million for a total of 7.8 million -- a 20 percent increase.

With those staggering numbers as a backdrop, Hispanic Heritage Foundation is hosting a series of small-business-focused symposia across America through the Latinos On Fast Track (LOFT) program. The effort aims to bring local entrepreneurs like Gonzalez and Gallardo and other business leaders together to network; share challenges and opportunities; and receive knowledge and guidance from a panel of local business leaders; and company representatives who have experience supporting local business, with a focus on technology.

Delicious ingredients aren't enough to make a small business successful. The ingredients need to be mixed with capital, a network of other small-business owners, a marketing plan, technology and ganas. It seems Casa de Chocolates' dynamic entrepreneurs have it covered, and not just in rich, dark chocolate.