Small businesses are essential to the success of any community, especially here in San Francisco. We spotlight seven great companies and hear keen leadership insights from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Bank of America.
The businesses featured here represent a small sample of the rich diversity of the city’s small construction companies, restaurants, salons, retailers and more. As we emerge from the pandemic and celebrate San Francisco Small Business Week, May 2 to 6, it’s a reminder that the individuals behind these dynamic companies should be praised for their diligence, entrepreneurial spirit and adherence to the dream of success for every generation. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well here in San Francisco.
We thank Bank of America and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce for supporting small businesses every day of the year.
Rodney Fong, president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, sfchamber.com
Only nine years after the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco hosted one of the most successful and opulent World’s Fairs, the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce meticulously planned the exposition, working to showcase the city’s best attributes to the entire world. The event successfully delivered the message: Not only had San Francisco survived this historic disaster, but it also had triumphantly risen from the ashes.
While the spectacle of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition showcased innovative architecture and design, today we see the iconic Salesforce Tower rise above our skyline. It celebrated the engineering feats of the Panama Canal, and we engineer against sea-level rise. Some newfangled and astounding automobiles were showcased, and, today, cars self-pilot around San Francisco. Innovations in agriculture and horticulture were the talk of the exhibition, and now cannabis is a newly legalized California crop, helping bring economic equity along with it. Perhaps the most popular exhibit was the Fountain of Energy—and today San Francisco and our region are global champions of solar and hydrogen power innovations.
That wasn’t all. The exposition emphasized the importance of elevating women and challenged traditional gender roles, highlighted the importance of Native American and Indigenous people, and it featured culinary delights from around the world—all attributes that remain constant in modern-day San Francisco.
The pandemic has been a challenge for all. There's no doubt that we’ve lost a lot, but I’m confident that San Francisco will rise. I’m not a scientist, but I’m convinced that a hefty dose of perseverance is found in the DNA of people who choose to live and work in San Francisco. And each time we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off , we remain resolutely unsatisfied with what we had before. And we use the challenge and opportunity to rise to new heights.
While we salute those long-ago Chamber leaders who helped plan the 1915 exposition, we hope you’ll join the Chamber’s business and civic leaders of today as we reimagine our city’s vast opportunities and engineer a path toward our limitless future. —Rodney Fong
Gioia McCarthy, San Francisco-North Bay market executive, Bank of America, bankofamerica.com
Over the past two years, we’ve seen the resilience of small-business owners on full display as they’ve navigated the many challenges created by the pandemic. Despite facing personal and financial sacrifices, entrepreneurs in San Francisco have persevered through flexibility, innovation and community support, and they are continuing to pursue their dreams—in fact, small businesses are being created at record levels nationwide.
This growth is encouraging, as we all recognize small businesses are integral to the neighborhoods we call home. Whether it’s the coffee shop you frequent in the mornings or the florist you visit on special occasions, small businesses are the lifeblood of our neighborhoods. And while we know how important these businesses are to us, research shows the appreciation goes both ways. According to Bank of America’s 2021 Small Business Owner Report, 32% of business owners said the support they felt from the community helped them navigate the pandemic in 2021.
Here in San Francisco, Bank of America is committed to ensuring our local small-business owners have the financial support they need to achieve their goals. As our communities continue to navigate a changing landscape, our partnerships with nonprofits are important to help meet critical local needs like supporting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) entrepreneurs and creating jobs. That’s why Pacific Community Ventures (PCV) and Prospera each recently received a multiyear, $200,000 grant along with leadership training through Bank of America’s Neighborhood Builders program. The nonprofits were recognized for their efforts to invest in small businesses across the San Francisco Bay Area.
Looking ahead to the rest of 2022 and beyond, resiliency will continue to be crucial for the success of small businesses in the face of new and ongoing challenges. Additionally, we know women and minority entrepreneurs still struggle to find the capital needed to start and grow a business. Bank of America has committed $270 million to about 95 investment funds for minority and women entrepreneurs to help supply growth capital and invest in programs to create future entrepreneurs. We also launched the Access to Capital Directory with Seneca Women to help these business owners understand the capital landscape and sort potential funding options.
The past two years have been a testament to the perseverance of small-business owners in San Francisco and beyond, and we will remain steadfast in offering support and resources to help them remain the backbone of our communities for years to come. —Gioia McCarthy
PRESENTED BY THE SAN FRANCISCO CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND BANK OF AMERICA
OSCAR ZAVALETA: MONTEZ GROUP
The Montez Group for Engineering and Construction Management was built from the ground up. Founded by Oscar Zavaleta, it originally focused on quality assurance and control, and has since become a full construction management firm. Specializing in large infrastructure and transportation projects, the group works on projects like the San Francisco International Airport.
Zavaleta emigrated from El Salvador to Los Angeles and was inspired by immigrants in his life to become a business owner. “My dad was an entrepreneur, and although he passed away when I was a college freshman, I always had an independent streak,” Zavaleta says. “When I combined this independent streak with a lack of representation in our industry, I got the motivation to start my own firm.”
His Bank of America small business banker, Landon Findley, has championed Zavaleta every step of the way, noting, "It's my job to make sure that Oscar has a point of contact within the bank that he could rely on in order to help build and grow his business. I've even gone as far as going to Oscar's house to help him set up remote deposit online." The businessman himself admits, "Without Bank of America, the growth of our company would have been difficult. Our goal is to scale our company. We're expanding and [being] able to do that, we are going to need a partner. And Bank of America is one of my partners.”
Zavaleta champions small businesses through organizations like the Oakland Latino Chamber of Commerce. “Our firm is one of very few Latino-owned firms in the project management and construction management sector that works on massive infrastructure projects,” Zavaleta says. The generosity extends inward too. “I have one mission when I hire someone,” he says. “Help them grow professionally and share with them the community initiatives we work on and encourage them to help others.”
LINDA MIHARA: PAPER TREE
The gorgeous Paper Tree
Japantown is home to Paper Tree, an origami and paper crafts store founded by the Mihara family and currently run by Linda Mihara. The shop has been in Japantown for 54 years, following in the footsteps of Mihara’s grandparents, who owned a publishing business called Oriental Culture Book Company.
Linda Mihara runs the boutique.
That company published one of the first English origami books, so the family knew they needed to carry on the love of this traditional art. “I’d like to think the Mihara family helped to introduce origami to the masses,” says Mihara. She continues the tradition by providing the largest selection of origami paper found in the region. “As the origami store, we feel we are carrying on an important and necessary cultural art that has existed for more than 1,000 years,” says Mihara.
Paper Tree sells origami paper, books, decorative paper, handcrafted cards, gifts and Japanese art supplies. “We want Paper Tree to be a destination stop while visiting incredible Japantown,” says Mihara. She offers classes in origami, teaching shapes like Flapping Butterfly and Jumping Frog. Paper Tree participates in origami events year-round, and Mihara’s art is on view in her gallery, Origamihara. 1743 Buchanan Mall, 415.921.7100
MALINDA WILLIAMS: SHE’S GOT A HABIT
Actress Malinda Williams is powered by good habits, and so is her brand, She’s Got A Habit. Patrons will find everything from bags to accessories—from women-owned brands that put quality over quantity. “I originally launched She’s Got A Habit as a stand-alone e-commerce website, selling products and goods sourced from my global travels,” Williams says. “I quickly began to see a lot of sales and traffic, so I decided to expand that single e-commerce store into a multiseller platform.”
She's Got A Habit offers a range of handmade accessories from women-owned brands.
Williams left home in the 1990s to continue her acting career and landed leading roles in movies like The Wood and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, and collected two nominations for NAACP Image Awards while doing it. With free time on set, Williams took an HTML coding class and, from there, She’s Got A Habit was born. Her goal is to provide “quality choices for the mind, body and soul” for every woman. “The She’s Got A Habit brand’s focus is wellness, whether that be physical, mental or economic,” Williams says. “Finding ways to contribute to the holistic wellness of my community is a part of my purpose and my ultimate goal.” –CK
NANCY DO: ENDO INDUSTRIES
Endo Industries founder Nancy Do
When Nancy Do founded Endo Industries, she changed the game for plant medicine. The woman- and queer-owned company shook up the cannabis industry by creating a top-notch product with meaningful partnerships. Endo provides supply-chain assistance through genetics, nursery and distribution for the best up-and-coming brands.
A growing facility at Endo Industries.
After witnessing a parent suffering from chronic pain, Do decided she needed to be involved in the cannabis industry. “As I got more involved, I saw and experienced the medicinal and wellness benefits of cannabis firsthand,” Do says. “Endo is here to not only provide safe and affordable access, but we are also here to contribute and support our surrounding communities. I understand too much about what this plant can do, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be dedicating my time than where I am now.”
Do’s brand is data-driven and focused on science. Endo’s nurseries fix problems in the industry through research and plant genetics and sharing that data so customers have “seed-to-sale” transparency. Do says her company empowers minority groups in this process and “building a transparent, reliable supply chain in cannabis that is grounded in science, data, wellness, impact and community.”
GAYLE PIRIE AND JOHN CLARK: FOREIGN CINEMA
Foreign Cinema owners Gayle Pirie and John Clark
One of the most magical dinner experiences in San Francisco is found at Foreign Cinema. The Mission District institution was taken over in 2001 by owners and chefs Gayle Pirie and John Clark. “The inspiration behind Foreign Cinema was at first the culling together of multiple spaces into one grand and unlikely spot,” Pirie says. “We want and need the restaurant to feel like home, a sanctuary—a place to forget about immediate troubles and escape into a seductive world of nourishment.”
The inviting dining space at Foreign Cinema.
Pirie and Clark met while working at Vicolo Pizza and were hired at Zuni Cafe before developing their own restaurant consulting practice to develop concepts in the United States, Asia and Canada. They’ve published three cookbooks: Country Egg, City Egg; Bride and Groom; and Foreign Cinema’s Cookbook. Stop by for an oyster night, or order one of the main features, such as the exotic spiced duck breast, while watching a movie after dusk. 2534 Mission St., 415.648.7600
JONATHAN OJINAGA: AZÚCAR LOUNGE
Burritos and mezcal cocktails reign at the always-interesting Azúcar Lounge.
Azúcar Lounge is more than a restaurant. It’s an immersion into Mexican culture that helps visitors forget where they are. The spot is run and managed by founder Jonathan Ojinaga and his husband, Jose Gutierrez. Almost everything is made in-house, and the team strives to offer a sampling of Mexican flavor and culture. Favorites are the burritos, nontraditional meals like the Azúcar tots and any drink with mezcal.
Ojinaga was inspired to create Azúcar Lounge by his grandfather and his childhood. “When I finished high school, I left the small town of Bayard, New Mexico, for college with aspirations to build a life in the business world,” Ojinaga says. “Memories and stories my grandfather shared of his experiences owning a small neighborhood bar came to the surface and sparked the fire for Azúcar Lounge.” As a gay and Latino business owner, Ojinaga makes a point to be immersed in the community and fosters relationships with local organizations, including the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Positive Resource Center. 299 9th St., 415.255.2982
NYKOL’E TAYLOR: SUMMERSANDFALL
SummersANDFall offers a range of beauty products.
SummersANDFall gives a new meaning to holistic beauty. Founder Nykol’e Taylor created the business in 2010 in Washington, D.C., as a student at Howard University. “I fell in love with Washington’s summers and fall,” Taylor says. “Growing up in San Francisco’s Sunset District, you really don’t get a chance to experience seasons.” She was determined to make sustainable and ethical beauty—inside and out—accessible for all. The team covers all of its bases and more: vegan and cruelty-free products, local and artisanal ingredients and more.
SummersANDFall helps better the community with strong partnerships like the one with Matter of Trust and a recycling program called Rebloom. Her team also participates in their Volunteer For Change program.
Now a full-service salon in San Francisco, SummersANDFall provides the community with beauty services and products, including body butters, sage and moisturizers. Much of its work is meant to empower, strengthen and unite women. “SummersANDFall brings love to our community,” Taylor says. “You fall in love with the authenticity, the diversity, the people and the creativity.” 1014 Larkin St., 415.525.7135
Photography by: FROM TOP: COURTESY OF THE SAN FRANCISCO CHAMBER OF COMMERCE; COURTESY OF BANK OF AMERICA; PAPER TREE PHOTOS BY LINDA MIHARA; SHE'S GOT A HABIT PHOTOS BY THIS IS LEAVING MEDIA; ENDO INDUSTRIES PHOTOS BY SIX NGUYEN AND HARVEY LOZADA; FOREIGN CINEMA PHOTOS BY ED ANDERSON AND LEONARD MARTIN HUGHET; BURRITO PHOTOS BY GONZALO MENDIOLA/PEXELS; COURTESY OF OSCAR ZAVALETA BY ALESIA KOZIK/PEXELS; THUMBNAIL BY TIM MOSSHOLDERUNS/UNSPLASH