Mosaic Stories

    Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano

    “If you are not uncomfortable, you are not dreaming big enough.”

    Since she began working with small business owners, Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano has often shared these thoughts, and it is a motto she lives by as well. Originally from the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, Gabriela has lived in California, Michigan, Boston, and the St. Louis area, doing a variety of things. She has been a stay at home mom, a charter member of the North Oakland/Macomb Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, a professional volunteer, a school administrator, and eventually, a business consultant.

    While Gabriela just moved back to St. Louis in 2016, she is already extremely busy working for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and opening a Mexican restaurant, Don Emiliano’s, with her husband in O’Fallon, Missouri. Gabriela does amazing work with the Latino community and has been extremely successful helping business owners and entrepreneurs access the resources that they need to start and grow their businesses.

    Even though Gabriela left Mexico when she was only five years old, she has been dedicated to working with the foreign-born community throughout her career. While in Detroit, Gabriela started her own business consulting company, Community Alliance Solutions, which helped organizations and nonprofits develop strategic plans to reach Latino and Spanish speakers. She worked with TechTown and ProsperUs Detroit to help small businesses, specifically immigrant entrepreneurs, grow and strengthen their business, the community, and in effect, the economy. Gabriela helped individuals get from an idea to an actual storefront, and also made sure that Latino and immigrant business owners were able to access the resources needed for their business’ success.

    Since moving to St. Louis, Gabriela has been doing similar work with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as a Business Counselor. Gabriela described her work, “I work with Spanish speaking business owners because we understand that a thriving region depends heavily on small businesses, and a lot of the time they are left out of the ecosystem. There is a lot of focus on startups and small businesses, but it’s not really accessible to immigrants or other language speakers. I’m working to bridge that gap for language and technology access, which are oftentimes tied together.”

    Gabriela realized that most resources are online, so immigrants who are not online or do not speak English as their first language may not know what is available. To try and help with this Gabriela said, “I’ve been meeting the leaders of the business ecosystem in St. Louis, at T-REX, the Minority Supplier Development Council, the Chamber, and many others, to really understand what’s available to then be able to share that with the small business owners.”

    Gabriela truly works as a middleman between small business owners and the resources they may not know exist. She also advocates for services that are needed for the Hispanic community. For example, Gabriela recognized that restaurant owners needed ServSafe certification for their employees in Spanish but were repeatedly told that classes were not available because there was not enough demand. By contacting various organizations and making the need known, Gabriela was able to get ServSafe classes offered in Spanish, thereby alerting the service providers to the need for marketing and outreach in Spanish.

    “I’m really seeing a very collaborative effort with all the other agencies, because it’s not just the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce saying there is a need. Everyone else is also starting to see that, and we don’t care who brings the resources as long as the people who need them can access them.”

    While Gabriela loves the sense of community and collaboration in St. Louis, she recognizes the difficulty to find resources for other language speakers. She explained, “Once you tap into the system, it totally works, but it’s figuring out what the system is. Here in St. Louis there doesn’t seem to be one specific location where Latinos are located, so we are kind of spread out all over the place. That makes it a lot harder for the organizations to pinpoint that there is a need because there is not a collective voice. And that is where the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has really stepped up, because we can be a collective voice for small business owners.”

    Gabriela recognized the difficulties that entrepreneurs face when she and her husband opened their restaurant. Her husband encountered some difficulty accessing resources. Gabriela described her frustrations:

    “My struggle was that I have an MBA, I speak English, I do business development, and I still felt like I had no idea what I was doing when we were starting the restaurant. So for people who don’t have those skillsets but have awesome ideas for a business they want to start, how do they get from point A to point B? I’ve kind of become a proponent for restaurant owners, because if I’ve had these struggles, I know other people have had them too.”

    She is working with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as well as other agencies, to change this, because she firmly believes that “one person’s struggles should lessen those of the next person.” Gabriela sees a lot of resources go unused and often it is because they are difficult to find or access. She explained:

    “The Chamber, as well as the St. Louis Mosaic Project, is saying, ‘we are not going to wait for you to come find us.’ We want to be visible; we want to be out in the community. Whether you’re starting a small business or not, we’re here for you. We might not know everything, but we have a vast membership, so if you need something we can call the Mosaic Project or the International Institute or a number of other partners and help you find what you need.”

    Since there is not a specific Latino area of St. Louis, Gabriela stressed the importance of getting involved and connected. She explained how Facebook has become a sort of forum. “Facebook has become the news, whether it’s the facts or  not, so I think a lot of conversations are happening in the private Facebook groups. There are some groups for Latinos and Hispanics in St. Louis which help connect people and have been a good way to share information.”

    Gabriela hopes to continue connecting people through the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and looks forward to settling into St. Louis. She explained, “I want to attract more members to the Chamber because I want our businesses to succeed. And I see us growing the membership because we want to revitalize St. Louis and because we want to increase the economic stability of the Latino community and of St. Louis as a whole.”

    Gabriela’s final advice to immigrants was: “Get involved. Find your passion. If your passion is volunteering in the church, get involved and find resources that way. If you’re passionate about a small business, ask for help. A lot of time I feel like as immigrants, and especially as Latinos, we limit ourselves because we don’t know. So, ask, reach out to people, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to fail. A lot of times we have to get out of our comfort zone… if you are not uncomfortable, there is room for more.”

    That is exactly what Gabriela and her husband have done.  After having lived in Michigan for more than 20 years, they decided to move to the O’Fallon, Missouri area and open the restaurant as a legacy for their family.  Gabriela’s oldest daughter, Adriana, is in Guatemala in the Peace Corps while her younger daughter, Marcela, is a senior at Wayne State University studying criminal justice. Her son, Edward, is a special education teacher in Detroit Public Schools.  Since opening the restaurant they have all spent some time running the family business.