Fleeing the Khmer Rouge, Cambodian refugee Brandon Chhea came to California when he was 12 years old and settled in San Pedro.
After graduating high school, Chhea began working as a janitor at an aerospace company before getting the chance to design interior spaces of commercial planes when the owner of the company saw potential in him, according to Chhea.
He’s designed cabinet spaces, flip tables, sleeping compartments and more, but he had to stop when stricter regulations were handed down.
“I was no longer able to design such things because I needed higher education and credentials to perform work,” Chhea said.
He now works at Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes as a banquet coordinator, but he also owns a donut shop in Long Beach where he’s asking for help from the community to build up the neighborhood business.
Chhea bought the store in 2016, but he was a customer first.
“On my way to work every morning, I would stop by the exact same donut shop which is now my Donut Kingdom, and purchase my coffee for over six years,” Chhea said. “One day, when I was purchasing my coffee, the former owner told me his wife had passed away and that he was going to sell the shop.”
Chhea said he could not see the shop he loved so much close. Seeing the potential in the store, Chhea and his wife used all of their savings to buy it.
Now, Chhea is hoping to receive a $10,000 loan through Kiva, a small-business crowdfunding platform, to buy kitchen equipment, including an electric mixer, oven and freezer that will enable him to produce better donuts more efficiently.
He is one of several local entrepreneurs who have already received or applied for zero percent–interest loans through a partnership among Kiva, the city of Long Beach and multiple other organizations.
The city—along with the Los Angeles Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Long Beach Community Foundation—established itself as a Kiva city late last year. It focuses on small businesses, which make up nearly 87 percent of businesses in the city and are one of the biggest sales tax drivers, according to city officials.
City Councilman Rex Richardson, who was instrumental in bringing Kiva to Long Beach, also emphasized its importance for minority-owned businesses that sometimes don’t qualify for traditional loans.
In Long Beach, fewer than 15 percent of Asian and Black residents have access to the resources they need to start up or own a business, according to data provided by the city.
Through Kiva, organizations enrolled as trustees match the dollars raised by community members for a specific business.
Right now, Chhea is still in the private fundraising period of his Kiva campaign, according to Eric Romero, project manager for the Economic Development Department. With the United Cambodian Community as his trustee, he needs to receive 20 lenders from his own network of family, friends and community supporters within a 15-day period before his campaign can go public, Romero said.
“All loans must go through this period, where the borrower is required to tap into their own networks to recruit support of their loan prior to the loan being posted to the public Kiva website,” Romero said.
Chhea is at $125 and is a week away from his goal of reaching 20 lenders. The borrowers are held accountable to the lenders, who act as social underwriters.
Lenders are not guaranteed their money back so these businesses are vetted by the city before they can ask for loans.
Other current lending campaigns that are past the private fundraising period include:
- Steve Tsepelis, owner of Broadway Video, has worked for the video store for 18 years and has owned it for about a year. With his $10,000 loan goal he would like to expand the video store’s inventory, increase promotions and advertising, upgrade equipment, complete repairs and create jobs.
- Experiencing violence in her youth, Virginia native Deidre Norville came to California where she eventually became a social worker and entrepreneur. She now heads up Our Essence Beauty Supply in North Long Beach and would like to use her $10,000 loan goal to purchase new equipment, create a marketing campaign and provide working capital.
To date, the Kiva Long Beach program, which began its first campaign this May, has fully funded four campaigns, including local photographer Tromaine Ellis; Tanai Holder, owner of salt therapy business The Salt Lounge; Lawrence Charles of the tea business Charles & Company; and Ashley Arnold of the bakery Ladie Kakes.
Anyone interested in being a borrower or lender can click here.
Stephanie Rivera covers immigration and the north, west and central parts of Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephRivera88.
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