Taufeek Shah, left, founded Lola's Fine Hot Sauce and Lola's Fine Kitchen in Ankeny with his mother, Carmelita, right. (Photo courtesy of Taufeek Shah)
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By Taufeek Shah, Iowa Capital Dispatch

As Iowa continues to recover from the pain wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important we begin the healing process to rebuild towards a sense of normalcy. That starts with supporting small businesses through this transition, especially ones that are minority-owned.

Minority-owned small businesses across the US have seen outsized impacts on their business, with 66% of minority small business owners being concerned about having to permanently shut their doors. This is troubling news as there were 25,882 minority-owned business employees in Iowa as of 2019, which was a growing workforce that’s been halted by the pandemic.

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With children returning to in-person learning, fans beginning to fill the stands for baseball games, and many companies returning to the office, the minority- and women-owned small business community will need your continued support as we transition back to normal.

My mother, Carmelita, and I founded Lola’s Fine Hot Sauce and Lola’s Fine Kitchen over four years ago. We had a slow build to now having an established, devoted following of my family’s secret recipe inspired by my mother’s work ethic and her Filipino-Pakistani roots.

As Iowa’s business community emerges from the pandemic, I can’t help but think of her entrepreneurial spirit to build a truly unique brand, especially for Central Iowa. I invoked the spirit of my mother, who came to the United States without any money in her pockets and worked two jobs to make ends meet for our family. Her work ethic was an inspiration for me, especially during this difficult past year.

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Running a small business is always an uphill battle, but with COVID-19, I’ve seen too many colleagues and business leaders from minority communities struggle to access the resources they need to stay afloat. The entire food and dining industry was affected from the onset of the COVD-19 pandemic. From fulfilling retailers’ orders to restaurants having to serve limited dine-in patrons, we lost all of our food service business through the first few months. We knew we either had to change our business model or close our doors.

As traditional retail became increasingly challenging during the pandemic, my team pivoted to more online sales and creative strategies on Facebook and Instagram to continue engaging with customers. These platforms have helped us generate more content and reach more customers as online and delivery services became the norm. Adding the “swipe up” feature on Instagram as well as digital search engine optimization (SEO) targeting has driven growth through content delivery. As more Iowans have embraced online ordering and online customer engagement, the better our business has done over the course of the past year.

As more people get vaccinated, more Americans will feel open to patronizing local businesses and restaurants again, which will be critical to reopening our economy. However, it will take all of us to rebuild the minority-owned business community. Through social media platforms and in-person shopping once it’s safe, we can completely rebuild this vital segment of Iowa’s economy.

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A vibrant entrepreneurial community with strong minority and women representation will make Iowa both an economically and socially sound place to conduct business and call home post-pandemic.

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