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On Food & Family: Isabel’s Story


Isabel joined a Lending Circle to help grow her business. This summer, her restaurant “El Buen Comer” opened in Bernal Heights.

Isabel is a MAF client and entrepreneur who used Lending Circles to expand her already successful culinary business. She gave these remarks at the MAFter Party, a celebration of MAF’s national Lending Circles network that took place on October 27, 2016. Her new Bernal Heights restaurant El Buen Comer helped cater the event.

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My love for food began as a young girl, when I was living in Mexico City, where I was born. My mother and my seven sisters used to cook for the whole family, especially for the holidays. Cooking always caught my attention.

So when my family moved to San Francisco in 2001, I began cooking from my home in the Tenderloin.

It was a way of creating community in a new place.

I prepared traditional foods that reminded me of Mexico: stews, beans and rice, and tortillas that I made from scratch.

In 2007, a friend recommended that I visit La Cocina, an organization that supports women entrepreneurs, so I could formalize my business. That’s how my business began to grow.

I opened a stand in the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market and began baking the bread sticks for Pizzeria Delfina in the Mission. We decided to call our business El Buen Comer. I dedicated myself to creating authentic Mexican dishes. To this day, I still use my mother’s recipe for mole verde.

At first, it was hard. I had to invest so much — first in a truck, then in paying for permits for my business — that I didn’t have any profits at all. I felt discouraged – I remember commenting to my husband, “ I don’t know if I want to keep doing this.”

But my family supported me. One of my sons started writing me notes with positive messages to encourage me. I was determined, and I didn’t allow myself to give up.

I needed to buy an industrial steamer to sell my tamales in the Farmers’ Market, but it cost $1,400, and we just didn’t have enough saved. It was in that moment that I heard of MAF through a friend who had participated in Lending Circles with MAF. I joined my own Lending Circle, and for the first time, I had a safe, reliable way to save money.

In June, I opened my restaurant, El Buen Comer, on Mission Street in Bernal Heights. My husband, sons and I run the business together, and my husband still works at the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.

Even though the business isn’t physically in my home anymore, the restaurant practically is my home. I spend more time there than in my own house!

We decorated the restaurant with Mexican crafts, and also with the toy cars my sons used to play with when they were little.

This helps us remember how and where our dream began.

Lending Circles were our first financial door – they gave me access to loans to open my own restaurant, which is something I could never have imagined. But more important than that, they helped me learn to manage the financial system to open even more opportunities in the future.

My dream continues. We’re planning to form a Lending Circle within our family to keep building credit and help us realize our next dream.

Mohan Kanungo

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