A $500,000 state-funded capital grant is enabling Stephanie Hart, founder and owner of Brown Sugar Bakery in Chicago’s Grand Crossing neighborhood, to acquire a second manufacturing location and expand her capacity to supply additional outlets on the South Side and at Navy Pier, where the bakery has operated since 2016. 

The grant, provided this past June by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, is part of $11 million designated by the state to minority-owned businesses and business incubators to support business expansions and revitalize their communities. 

Ready to take the next step?

We can help you find the right mentor, at no cost.

Hart opened her retail bakery in 2004 and has built a strong following for her signature cakes, cupcakes and specialty sweets. Like other small restaurants and food enterprises, her retail location closed its doors when the city shut down in mid-March. Yet she didn’t let the pandemic dampen her dreams of expanding her facilities and product line. Hart had put into motion applying for the grant in 2019, teaming up with founder TeQuila Shabazz of local consulting firm Qui Support Solutions to help her with the grant application. The effort paid off, when Brown Sugar Bakery was one of 12 Chicago-based businesses out of 600 applicants statewide selected for the capital grant. Hart used the funds to acquire Cupid Candies, a family-operated candy manufacturer on S. Western Avenue that’s been in business since 1936. Thanks to the grant, Hart was able to purchase the building and its equipment, and will be able to retain the company’s 23 employees. Though her bakery in Grand Crossing remains closed, she continues to take pre-orders and offer curbside pickup three days a week. 

Finding the right financing is crucial for the survival of any small business. Yet the landscape is shifting rapidly, and permanently, as the coronavirus pandemic is forcing all types of businesses to adopt digital marketing tactics to interact with their stakeholders — from their employees to their suppliers to their customers. In the next section, we examine three key trends that will determine the future success or failure for businesses operating in the new “new normal.”