LEE COUNTY, Fla. — The path for people of color to open a business is getting wider and wider, especially in Southwest Florida. A new study ranks Fort Myers and Cape Coral in the nation’s top five for minority-owned businesses.
If it’s not the savory smells, or what’s sizzling on the stove, it’s Michelle Pope’s contagious laugh that keeps people coming back to Chelle’s Special Touch in Fort Myers.
“It makes me feel proud that I can stand among those that decided to take a step of faith,” he said.
As a black businesswoman, she’s not alone in her bravery. A report by the finance company SoFi ranks Cape Coral and Fort Myers 2nd in the nation for the percentage of minority-owned businesses in the area. But growing businesses comes with a downside during a pandemic.
“I’ve had a large drop in revenue simply because of the way my business is structured,” said Pope.
On top of feeding people inside her restaurant, she catered school lunches. When schools switched to virtual learning last spring, she was hit hard.
“I lost maybe 75 percent of my business,” she said.
She wasn’t the only one losing money, even outside of the pandemic.
According to a recent study from the Minority Business Development Agency, minority-owned businesses have grown by 35 percent nationwide, but overall revenue has dropped by 16 percent.
“I’m basically being a lot more creative with things that I do,” said Pope.
She added a meal-prep option to her menu to keep her doors open.
Southwest Florida’s fabric is made up of small businesses owners like Pope. Rafael Feliciano recognized a need to support local owners no matter their ethnic and cultural backgrounds. So, he decided to open the marketing firm Main Course Hospitality.
“The idea was to help the small businesses that kinda overlooked from the bigger marketing companies,” he said.
He’s the man behind Southwest Florida’s Hope for Hospitality Restaurant Week during the holidays. He says his diverse team and the people they help, is as colorful as the food they promote.
“We like to say that food brings people together. No matter race, sex or religion, and that’s how we want to treat our company culture,” he said.
Feliciano also has a non-profit called The Pineapple Foundation that’s working to fund small businesses and employees who are hit hard during the pandemic and beyond times like this.