WILKES-BARRE – Over a year ago, Miguel Perdomo – originally from the Dominican Republic – transformed the former White House Cafe on Hazle Street into Casa Blanca Restaurant Bar & Grill to serve Caribbean and international cuisine.
“I see a lot of future here,” said Perdomo, who also owns an appliance sales and repair shop on the same street.
This “future” inspired Perdomo and other Hispanic business owners to train Latinos working together in NEPA to serve the city’s and region’s growing Hispanic population.
Hispanic or Latino residents now make up 16% of Luzerne County’s population, up from 1.2% in 2000, said Teri Ooms, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development. In Lackawanna County, Hispanic or Latino residents make up 9.45% of the population, up from about 1.4% in 2000, she said.
Latinos Working Together in NEPA has about 75 members in northeast Pennsylvania, said Francisco Gonzalez, owner of Franchesca General Services across from Angelo’s Pizza and president of the new organization.
He said the organization is like a “room for Hispanics” to provide information and support. He filed documents to register the organization.
“Our main goal is to get a building where we could have offices and rooms to educate people to explain to them the importance of becoming American citizens and to offer English classes,” said Gonzalez, who moved from the Dominican Republic to New York. City in northeast Pennsylvania.
His office has become a place where Hispanic and Latino business owners and residents can receive information on how to become U.S. citizens and where they can obtain passports.
Our main street
The growing Latino community can be seen on Hazle Street, which is filled with Hispanic businesses. Copies of the newspaper “La Voz Latina” written in Spanish are available from a box on the sidewalk.
Perdomo said Hazle Street has become a popular location for Hispanic businesses and compared it to Calle Ocho in Miami, known for its Cuban restaurants, bakeries and street festivals.
When people come to Hazle Street, they can see five Hispanic restaurants, two Hispanic hair salons, and three Hispanic tire stores.
“Hazle Street has become like Main Street to us,” Perdomo said.
Edward Abreu is originally from the Dominican Republic and now owns the Toque de Sazon restaurant at 434 Hazle St. He said the organization is “important to everyone and to the community.”
He praised Gonzalez for his efforts “to bring everyone together.”
“I checked out the area and liked it. It’s comfortable for everything,” Abreu said. “My brother, my sister, my uncle and everyone comes here and also makes investments.”
The role of Wilkes Barre
Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown has previously met with Hispanic business owners at Casa Blanca Restaurant Bar & Grill and plans to meet with members again in December. Code enforcers will be present at the meeting to provide information to Latino residents who want to start businesses, Brown said.
Of the 36 new businesses that started in Wilkes-Barre this year, Brown said about a third are minority-owned businesses.
More than $413,300 has been awarded to new businesses through the Spark Wilkes-Barre grant program that helps new business owners pay rent of up to $10,000 in the first year, the mayor said. The grant program is intended to facilitate business growth in the city and will also be discussed at the meeting, he said.
“There is money available to help them get started,” Brown said. “I am very proud of the fact that minorities are taking advantage of this, but many are not. It’s something we’re working on together. »
Brown has the same goal as Gonzalez “to make sure we provide information to the Latin American community to ensure they are successful in their business startups.”
“There is power in numbers. There is strength in coming together,” Brown said. “The partnership we’re building includes the mayor’s office, Latino business owners and the community working together to start an organization that will be a big part of the town of Wilkes-Barre.”
U.S. Census figures show Hispanic or Latino residents make up about 26.6% of Wilkes-Barre’s total population of approximately 44,453, according to the U.S. Census.
“There’s a very large Latino population,” Brown said. “We have people coming from Hazleton and out of the region because they see opportunities. There are opportunities that they may not have in another city.
Everal “Ben” Eaton, senior director of operations for the Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce, applauded Latinos working together in NEPA and any organization “that seeks to uplift our region and provide resources to help achieve all areas of our community”.
“Our region does its best when we help each other grow and succeed,” Eaton said. “We look forward to any opportunity to partner with Latinos Working Together in NEPA as we work toward our mission to accelerate the economic engine of the region by fostering innovation, connecting our resources, and uplifting and defending our community. “
The Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber sees an increased need for resources and support for Hispanic businesses amid the growing Hispanic population in Luzerne County and the challenges created by the pandemic, Eaton said.
In 2019, the chamber’s board established advocacy and diversity as part of its strategic plan and the chamber launched its diversity, equity and inclusion council in 2020.
The chamber has launched several initiatives to help support the diverse communities that make up the Wyoming Valley. Recently, the chamber received a $154,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to expand the chamber’s Connect program offerings and the Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to a new program called “Connect Inclusive “, did he declare.
“The program specifically offers resources to minority-owned businesses in the form of mentorship cohorts, a supply chain program, and other resources with our partners on the grant at the University’s Small Business Development Center. Wilkes and the Institute,” Eaton said.