Mayor Bill Peduto along with Pittsburgh restaurant owners at the release of data from the Immigrant-Owned Small Businesses and Local Food Economy Report. Photo courtesy of All for All.

In the last several decades, Pittsburgh’s local food scene has been revitalized by a growing number of restaurants opened by newly-arrived immigrants that showcase cuisine from Asia, South America and Africa.

But according to a new study from All for All, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting immigrant communities, significant hurdles and gaps remain for immigrant entrepreneurs looking to enter the food industry, particularly in areas like public assistance and access to capital.

“Enabling and strengthening entrepreneurship efforts is critical to welcoming immigrants in Pittsburgh and supporting economic empowerment of the community at large,” says the report.

Pittsburgh needs a thriving immigrant community: As the report notes, the Pittsburgh region’s population is growing older and smaller every year. Attracting significant outside immigration will be critical to giving the city a dynamic workforce in the coming decades.

The Immigrant-Owned Small Businesses and Local Food Economy Report, as it is officially known, is based on interviews with 40 different immigrant-owned restaurants in the Pittsburgh region conducted in the spring of this year.

“Opening a business is hard for everyone” says Kiya Keili, health and food access coordinator for All for All. “And barriers uncovered in this report, if addressed, will make entrepreneurship easier and more accessible for all Pittsburghers.”

The report identifies several common concerns that reoccurred throughout the interview process. Many of those interviewed had no credit history in America when they began their businesses and spoke of being frustrated by the lack of small business loans that didn’t have onerous interest rates.

“Access to sufficient startup capital at the beginning of a food entrepreneur’s journey can make the difference between hitting the ground running or being stuck without the space, equipment and resources to keep afloat,” the report states.

While Pittsburgh does have a vibrant system of private and public seed funding for supporting small, locally owned businesses, many respondents told the authors they were unaware of small loan programs offered by groups like Idea Foundry.

“Many expressed that they simply did not know about resources such as Kiva or the Urban Redevelopment Authority loans when they began, and would have used them if they had.”

The report recommends the city invest more money into outreach activities specifically within immigrant communities, experimenting with new small loan programs,  and reform the system for certifications and licenses to make it more friendly to non-native English speakers.

Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, Keili mentioned that the city’s Office of Nighttime Economy would be releasing a guide to starting small businesses in early 2019.

“We’re excited to see how that will help entrepreneurs, especially immigrant business owners,” says Keili. “However, this is limited to Pittsburgh proper, so it will be important to build on this tool towards a more regional resource.”

The release of the study’s findings took place this week at Salem’s Market & Grill in the Strip District. In attendance were Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker and the proprietors of Azorean Cafe, Casa Brasil and Ineffable Ca Phe.

Check out the full report here.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.