A former restaurant, tucked away behind trees near Walmart at State Road 674 and U.S. Highway 301, is poised to become a hub for entrepreneurs in the growing Wimauma community of Hillsborough County’s South Shore.
Enterprising Latinas Inc., a nonprofit working to empower low-income Hispanic women in Tampa Bay, acquired the building and 2.25 acres of land from Roy and Rachel Loken for $735,000, says Liz Gutierrez, ELI Founder and CEO.
The property, formerly a breakfast-and-lunch restaurant called Rachel’s Country Kitchen, will be the site of ELI’s Wimauma Opportunity Center, a place where the community can meet and train for new jobs or entrepreneurial endeavors.
The purchase was made possible by a $250,000 grant from Alleghany Franciscan Ministries, which is investing in the community through its Common Good Initiative. Alleghany is providing another $250,000 to help create an economic development infrastructure, advance economic development and provide training.
ELI also secured a $520,000 loan from the nonprofit Raza Development Fund, the largest Latino Community Development Financial Institution, Gutierrez says.
The project will involve renovating the building’s interior for community learning and shared office use, and adding outdoor signage and lighting. Later on, a complete redesign of the front is anticipated.
“It’s really going to be a hub for all things related to community economic opportunity," explains Gutierrez. “We’re very excited to have a physical place where we can bring people together to expand the work that we already started.”
ELI, which has been leasing at Beth-El Farmworker Ministry on U.S. 301, will also be housed at the facility. It began moving in last week after the Jan. 8 sale.
“All of the customers are coming in looking for Rachel,” Gutierrez says. “They lost their little place. Hopefully we will convert it into a new place they can come back to.”
Located at 5128 State Road 674, the Wimauma Opportunity Center is expected to draw students to the commercial kitchen for culinary training -- including food service management -- starting in February.
“That’s an industry that’s booming all around us,” Gutierrez explains. “When it’s not being used for training, other people can use it be able to get licensed to sell tacos or sandwiches though food trucks. ... Hopefully, it will also be a catalyst of the food micro entrepreneurs that are here in Wimauma and also the surrounding area.”
As development in Hillsborough pushes south, the community with an average income of less than $26,000 a year between 2011-15 is transitioning from farmlands into new subdivisions that look much like homes in neighboring Sun City Center. With help from the Alleghany Franciscan Ministries’ Common Good Initiative, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and other concerned citizens, Wimauma residents have been working to direct their own path.
The decision to purchase a facility was made because ELI couldn’t find available rental space, Gutierrez says.
ELI, which has been training childcare workers, expects to again offer that training in February. It is in the process of developing an area transportation system in cooperation with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.
“We’re having conversations with a number of different funders that have expressed general commitment to provide startup capital,” she says.
ELI has hired Chamain Moss-Torres, Ph.D., formerly program director at the Children’s Home Network, as its director of economic opportunity initiatives. It also is leasing space to the Wimauma CDC, which is interviewing for an executive director to further the CDC’s mission and manage its staff and programs. The executive director also will serve as its primary fundraiser and spokesperson. Applicants for the position, expected to pay between $75,000-$90,000 annually with benefits, should submit cover letters and resumes to Connectivity Community Consulting at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adds Gutierrez: “We’re going to be very busy. Our goal over the next year is to touch 100 women and their families,” she says.
Learn more about how the Wimauma community is transitioning for growth though Alleghany Franciscan Ministries-funded On the Ground coverage in 83 Degrees.