By Jordan Tate
Two recent tours of the Lincoln’s immigrant-owned businesses have helped residents become more familiar with these shops and restaurants, while giving the business owners a chance to share their stories along with the goods and services they offer the community.
In 2014, Nebraska Appleseed, a nonprofit organization that fights for justice and opportunity for all Nebraskans, and the New Americans Task Force, a network of public and private organizations that work to support new residents, wanted to highlight the success stories of businesses that have been created by immigrants and refugees in Lincoln. Their goal was to introduce more people to the goods and services these businesses provide, while making members of the community more comfortable visiting these businesses.
“We recognized that we have immigrants living amongst us, and how we receive them at the local level is how our communities can become stronger, and a community where everyone feels value,” said Christa Yoakum, coordinator with Nebraska Is Home, a Nebraska Appleseed program that supports community conversations about welcoming new Nebraskans.
The tours were organized by Yoakum, members of Lincoln’s Young Professionals Group, Lacey Studnicka with Lutheran Family Services and Kit Boesch of the task force. Together, they created the idea to visit a few businesses each tour and help tell the story of the owners, while communicating the uniqueness of these businesses.
“We wanted to help people recognize immigrant contributions to our community and the entrepreneurial advantages they bring to our community,” Yoakum said. “People don’t often go into immigrant-owned businesses out of concerns or fears, and many of them say, ‘I’d like to go there someday.’”
Keith Peterson, leadership council board member with Lincoln’s Young Professionals Group, thought the tour was “a great idea.”
“It was fascinating for me,” he said. “People in Lincoln don’t know a lot about what’s going on and how it’s a hub for a lot of immigrants and a destination for many people.”
The tour consisted of members from the organizing groups, business owners, religious leaders, current and former city council members and Nebraska legislative staff, all them from Lincoln. Lutheran Family Services provided vans for the participants, which totaled around 17 people. As they drove, organizers discussed the upcoming business including the background of the immigrants, how they started each business and how long they have been in the community.
“We started out inviting some very specific people that would help take the message into the community,” Yoakum explained. “And we wanted people to go together and have the opportunity to interact with each other during the drive.”
Yoakum also noted that the van drivers, who were also provided by Lutheran Family Services, were immigrants themselves, an example of the way such organizations help immigrants find work here in the community.
The first tour stops included:
• Sher E Punjab, an Indian restaurant at 1601 Q St.
• The Eurasia Russian Store, a Russian souvenir shop at 809 P St.
• The Karen Asian Market, a grocery store at 1545 S. 17th St.
• The African Home Food Supply, a grocery store at 226 O St.
• Provider’s Network, a nonprofit organization that provides services and support for in-home childcare businesses, at 5625 O St.
• La Mexicana Market and Restaurant, a grocery store and restaurant, 1637 P St.
“To be able to go into their businesses that they have created, it was very exciting,” said Studnicka, who went on both tours. “It really reinforced the idea of the American dream.”
The second tour included:
• TMCO, or Total Manufacturing Company, a metal manufacturer at 535 J St.
• The Little Flower Childcare Center, run by the Diocesan Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Mercy, at 9141 S. 78th St.
• The Parthenon Greek Grill at 5500 S. 56th St.
• Emsud’s Clothiers, a men’s wear store at 2801 Pine Lake Road.
• Pan Dulce Bakery at 801 S. 11th St.
Each stop on the tour lasted roughly 15 minutes, during which time participants met the owners and toured the business. At the restaurants, tour-goers also sampled the food.
“It would’ve been nice to get a little more in-depth with some of them, but we got a little feel for everything,” Peterson said.
Steve Phillips, a minister at St. Paul United Methodist Church, agreed. “It would be easy to spend more time at each place, but it was an adequate amount of time to let each of the businesses tell their story.”
The tour showed the participants a side of Lincoln they hadn’t seen before. It also opened the door to immigrant-owned businesses that many might have known existed for years, but never took the time to go in.
“The whole experience gave me a new geographical sense of where these immigrant-owned businesses have been located,” Phillips said. “It’s not just downtown.”
Peterson noted that the tour had helped open his eyes to immigrant-owned businesses that have been in Lincoln for years, places he had never visited.
“I used to live in that area, but I’d never been there,” Peterson said of the Pan Dulce Bakery. “I haven’t been back to Pan Dulce [since the tour], but I’d like to get back there.”
Cesar Arza, originally from Bolivia, opened Pan Dulce, a sweet-smelling bakery near downtown, more than six years ago. The bakery is open every day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., offering a wide array of pastries and desserts, from croissants to cochas, similar to a large fried doughnut but topped with frosting that resembles cake frosting.
“Everybody comes to buy cochas,” said Eba Santiago, a Bolivian immigrant who has worked at the bakery since it opened. “We’re always busy, every day. Our customers are usually 90 percent Latino and 10 percent American.”
A popular stop on the second tour was Emsud’s Clothiers in south Lincoln.
Emsud Deumic, a refugee from Bosnia, along with his wife, Samka, and children, Salko and Alma, built a clothing and tailoring business from the ground up. Since 1998, when he opened his first alteration shop, Deumic has turned his business into a fixture.
Samka and Alma Deumic participated in the first tour and enjoyed seeing the businesses that were featured and the way they represented immigrant-owned businesses like theirs.
“Bigger cities tend to hold certain ethnicities in a certain area,” Alma Deumic said. “But this tour really showed the diversity of the Lincoln community and the immigrant-owned businesses.”
Alma Deumic and her husband visited Sher E Punjab and the Eurasia Russian Store after she was introduced to them during the tour.
The Deumics appreciated the attention paid to their business during the second tour.
“It was nice to get them in the door so they could see all we have to offer and hear our story,” Alma Deumic said. “As a small business, we can always use the extra help letting people know we exist.”
Emsud Deumic even gave the tour-goers a free pair of socks for visiting his store.
“I was fascinated to see Emsud and their family-owned business,” Peterson said. “I came back to work and told a lot of people about Emsud’s.”
La Mexicana, the final stop on the first tour is a combination grocery store and restaurant that lets customers shop for the same ingredients that its authentic Mexican food is made from.
“Customers who eat at La Mexicana see things in our recipes that they can find in the store,” said Abram Morales, co-owner with Guillermo Haro. “We get all kinds of people in here.”
Morales, who came to the U.S. when he was 9, is a big fan of the tours and the support he has seen from the Lincoln community since opening the grocery store and restaurant in 1996.
“I think it’s great, especially for the community,” Morales said. “In Lincoln you can feel the support.”
The 2014 tours proved to be an effective way for Lincoln residents to become more aware of the immigrant-owned businesses, and will be expanded in the future to highlight more of our city’s unique shops and services. Organizers are already coming up with new tour ideas.
One option is to feature the ethnic markets along North 27th Street, many of which are owned by immigrants or refugees. Another option is to include the community gardens that have sprouted up around Lincoln to give community members space to plant and grow fresh produce.
“I got a lot out of it,” Peterson said. “It’s definitely something I would like to be involved with again.”
Phillips felt the same way. “I’ve told several people about the tour and what an eye-opening experience it was for me.”