Two Charlottesville businesses making baked goods and sauces are getting a boost from people lending them money from all over the world.
Stevie G’s gluten-free bakery and The Happy Tomato both have received interest-free microfinance loans of $5,000 through Kiva, a nonprofit organization that provides microloans to budding entrepreneurs.
“It was an amazing experience. People all over the world were helping us grow,” said sisters Stephanie White and Sue Gass, owners of Stevie G’s. “It was very personal because we were able to communicate with each of our lenders.”
Stevie G’s and The Happy Tomato received loans from Crozet to Germany and as far away as Australia.
Stephen Davis is president of the Community Investment Collaborative, the local Kiva finance partner.
“Kiva Zip, the platform in the U.S., allows organizations like ours to become trustees,” Davis said. “As a trustee, we endorse entrepreneurs to help them receive funds through Kiva.”
The CIC, a grassroots initiative started by Toan Nguyen and other community members, focuses on the Charlottesville-Albemarle area. For the CIC to endorse a business, it must complete a 17-week program that teaches business skills.
Offering micro-loans, as well as mentoring and education, the CIC hopes “to cultivate a local business network.”
The local Kiva initiative took a big step forward after Stevie G’s and The Happy Tomato each met their $5,000 goal within three days of the CIC beginning the partnership.
This speed was in part due to the opening of Kiva Richmond, where Capital One bank matched all donations.
Stevie G’s was started after a diagnosis forced Stephanie and her daughter to begin eating gluten-free. The gluten-free products they created were so good, friends urged White and Gass to open a bakery.
“A buttery shortbread bottom with a caramel pecan topping, it just melts in your mouth,” said Patty Pribus, an owner of the Blue Ridge Country Store, which carries Stevie G’s products. “You would never know they were gluten-free.”
The sisters will buy a commercial-grade oven with the loan, which will allow them to produce twice as much product and enable them to distribute beyond Whole Foods Market and the Albemarle area to the Richmond and Williamsburg markets.
“This loan has given me the opportunity to grow my business,” said Elizabeth James, owner of The Happy Tomato. “In the future, I will be able to walk into Whole Foods and see my product because of things like this.”
Started from a desire to have homemade products created from local ingredients, The Happy Tomato’s sauces and pestos can be found at Relay Foods, Rebecca’s Natural Foods, Foods of All Nations and Salt.
James said she plans to buy an industrial range, along with jars and larger pots, so she can meet the product demands of the Mid-Atlantic region of Whole Foods.
Just as these two businesses have lofty future plans, so does the CIC.
“We intend to help more entrepreneurs,” said Davis. “There is another 17-week workshop coming up in the fall. Twenty-five businesses will graduate from that.”