Photo: Chicago Laundrymat
With a booming business preparing and selling food products, Mexican immigrant David Martinez practices just the kind of entrepreneurship the Chicago municipality seeks to promote among immigrants.
But David is undocumented and though he does not dismiss the possibility that he might one day formally establish a business, his immediate goal is to survive after losing his job at a wholesale bakery.
“For three years I did a little of everything, from scrubbing floors to baking,” he told Efe.
“But I made a mistake and ended up without a job, so I immediately had to find a way to survive,” he said.
The same day he lost his job he started in business making and selling empanadas and other dishes typical of his native state of Hidalgo, taking advantage of the experience acquired in Chicago and the skills he brought with him from Mexico, where he learned to bake and fell in love with the tasty pastries that come out of an oven.
“They gave me the boot at 3:00 p.m. and by 3:30 p.m. I was already buying the potatoes and meat to make the stuffing, together with the flour and butter I needed to bake them at home,” he said.
Chicago’s municipal Office of New Americans offers informative workshops that aid entrepreneurial immigrants like Martinez.
And they fitted in perfectly with the future plans of the 27-year-old Martinez, who came to Chicago seven years ago “influenced by friends” who were already living in the Windy City.
Like any businessman, after deciding on the kind of business he would pursue, he looked for a market niche and chose the laundromats of Chicago’s Latino neighborhoods where every day “people gather with a lot of time on their hands, hungry and without a lot available in the way of eats.”
“Every morning I visit some 14 laundromats and my friend Saul goes to another 12 laundromats in different parts of Chicago,” he said.
They carry plastic boxes packed with empanadas and Mexican pasties in the trunks of their cars.
They charge $2.00 for an empanada or a pasty, and offer a combo of three for $5.00, with a variety of savory baked goods stuffed with a choice of chicken and mole, meat and potato, chorizo and beans, chorizo with potato, sausage with cheese, fruit with cheese or chorizo and cheese.
David began in 2009 making 50 empanadas and pasties a day and currently produces between 200 and 300.
“My kids like empanadas with chorizo and potato and I like the ones with rice pudding or with pineapple,” said Alicia Chavez, one of his clients.
His workday starts at 5:30 a.m., the prep work, baking and selling aren’t easy to the point of becoming tedious. Besides counting on the help of his salesman, David has two people at work cooking the stuffings.
“I started at home with a small oven I bought at Walmart, but when I was able to boost production I bought a large bakery oven big enough to fit six trays that hold 20 pieces each,” he said.