Tamales for Hope illustrates the fighting spirit of a successful entrepreneur

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Carmen Lopez and her daughter.
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Tamales for Hope is one of the Quad Cities’ greatest small business stories. Owner, Carmen Lopez has overcame challenges that go far beyond the typical small business growing pains. 

In 2012, Lopez was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a rare form of blood cancer. Despite the diagnosis, Lopez was determined to spend as much time with her daughter as possible, while also generating an income. This is when Lopez decided she wanted to become a business owner. 

Lopez began making tamales, a popular Mexican dish, to support her family by offering them to friends and family. Soon thereafter, her cancer went into remission and Lopez put her tamale business on hold as her improving health enabled her to search for a new job. But in 2018, the cancer returned, and she was once again tasked with a seemingly insurmountable challenge: providing for her daughter while also undergoing chemotherapy. 

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Lopez embarked once again to become a business owner, and it was recommended that her first step be finding support from the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Western Illinois University – Quad Cities (WIU-QC). Thanks to the personalized and bilingual services offered at the center, she had the opportunity to learn about regulations, sales taxes, marketing, business registration, networking and further relevant elements when starting and operating a business. 

“SBDC has been a resource that has helped me to improve my business. They have helped me with a lot of information and made my business easier to manage,” Lopez said. “They helped me with everything…even the business name…without their orientation Tamales for Hope would not exist because I did not have any means to pay for that type of professional service.” 

She said the SBDC has helped her feel more confident and determined in her efforts to grow her business. When asked what advice she’d give to an aspiring minority business owner, Lopez said, “I would tell them to go to the SBDC office at WIU to look for help because they have a lot of resources there that can help them, and they are very nice and helpful.” 

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Lopez is grateful to the other local entities that supported her including Global Communities, Catalyst Kitchen and Mercado on Fifth. 

Nowadays, Lopez is making hundreds of tamales each week and has also introduced stuffed empanadas to the menu. She said, “In the future I would like to have more restaurants that I can supply to and reach restaurants that have never sold tamales.” 

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Lopez’s story is one that perfectly illustrates the fighting spirit aspiring business owners must possess in order to succeed, and the Quad Cities Chamber is proud to partner with the SBDC at WIU-QC to ensure that entrepreneurs like her are given the resources they need.  

By the QC Chamber of Commerce

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