Portfolio Partner Profile
Community Reinvestment Fund
Founded in 1988, CRF is a national non-profit organization based in Minneapolis, MN, with the mission to improve lives and strengthen communities through innovative financial solutions. As a leading Community Development Financial Institution, CRF has provided more than $3.6 billion in loans and investments to communities across the country with a history of underinvestment.
CRF works to complement and amplify the scale and effectiveness of the small business ecosystem with its lending, technology, and service solutions. Working in collaboration with its partners, CRF drives collective impact by filling capital gaps, growing the capacity of small business support organizations, designing and managing financial programs, and enhancing the distribution of capital.
CRF believes that when small businesses have access to capital and resources, they empower people, build sustainable communities and help close the racial wealth gap.
Featured Impact Story
Former Military Fire Chief Cooks Up New Restaurant Concept
Grilled cheese is one of the classic comfort foods. But sometimes you need to let your hair down and indulge in something a little more decadent; like a grilled cheese with diced chicken tenders, bacon, mac-n-cheese, sharp cheddar cheese, and tater tots. That is just one of the sandwiches that will be on the menu at Crimson Melt when it opens its doors in Oklahoma City. Crimson Melt, owned by Ashontay and Cori Owens, is a new first responder, military veteran, firefighter-inspired restaurant concept offering gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches (Crimson Melts) and mind-bending milkshakes.
Ashontay first found his groove in the kitchen while serving in the US Air Force. During different deployments and duty installations, he would whip up new culinary creations to feed his fellow service members. Ashontay and his wife then started a family tradition where every Saturday they would take their kids to the deli to pick out different ingredients to make grilled cheese. They also owned a commercial milkshake machine and began making extravagant desserts.
After retiring from the military and his role as a fire chief, Ashontay decided to share his flair for over-the-top grilled cheeses and milkshakes and open his own restaurant. He went right to work securing a business license and developing his own brand and marketing identity. The next step was purchasing a building, but obtaining financing proved to be a challenge. “Nobody was working with me when it came to funding,” Ashontay explained. “People said I didn’t have any experience or wanted to know how much collateral I had. Nobody would give me the time of day.” Eventually, Ashontay found the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) website to seek financing and connected with CRF. “CRF walked me through process and let me know what to expect,” Ashontay said. “They were super instrumental in making sure I had all of my documents in order. It was a great and seamless experience.”
In December 2022, the Owens received a loan from CRF to make improvements to the building; purchase furniture, fixtures, and equipment; and for working capital. Now, they are in the process of building out their vision: an old school, vintage firehouse-themed restaurant where people can hang out, watch sports, and socialize.
The Owens will also incorporate their passion for philanthropy into the business. When Ashontay decided to open a restaurant, he also launched his own foundation called the Folds of the Flame Foundation. The foundation’s focus is to combat military and first responder suicide, and to provide services for the children of parents who are no longer with them. A portion of Crimson Melt’s sales will go to the foundation.
Karibu Grocery & Deli
“Karibu” means “welcome” in Swahili, which is exactly the experience the Ali brothers wanted to create when they set out to transform an old gas station in St. Paul, MN into a vibrant neighborhood grocery store and deli that serves Somali food. The Ali’s determination to find financing to fund their dream lead them to the ADC who in turn connected them with CRF. The full start-up funding package was a collaborative effort between ADC, CRF, the City of St. Paul and more.
Expanding Taste Throughout Minnesota
Alicia Hinze had worked in many well-known Twin Cities bakeries and wanted to open one of her own. She sought out CRF when she first opened The Buttered Tin in St. Paul, Minnesota back in 2013. During the past nine years, a lot has changed, Alicia said. “We thought we were going to be a small crew but immediately from the get-go, we had a line out the door.” What started out as a small team of ten quickly grew into a team of thirty people working at The Buttered Tin.
The immediate success of the restaurant was very exciting for Alicia; apart from the growing restaurant, they created a frozen line of pastries for guests to bake at home called The Buttered Tin Freshly Frozen. “I had the opportunity to test out frozen baked goods in house and by wholesale. It’s pretty exciting that we were able to pivot during the pandemic and create a product to go into groceries. By November we’ll have 10 different products available for purchase at Kowalski’s grocery stores.” With the success of her current location, Alicia found the opportunity to open another location of The Buttered Tin.
Initially, Alicia had always wanted to open up another location, but she couldn’t find the right time to do so. “I had always hoped that we would open more than one location. For me, life had gotten in the way. I started looking for a new location just prior to the pandemic.” The thought of expanding can be risky for some businesses, but Alicia always had faith that her restaurant would pull through.
She found the perfect opportunity to open her second location in Northeast Minneapolis right before the pandemic. “I loved the corner space right away when I first saw it. It’s so similar to the first location in Lowertown St. Paul, they both have the arts district and businesses nearby. It’s the perfect location to have breakfast or meet someone for lunch. You’re not in the thick of downtown and it’s located in a residential area.”
Alicia sought out a loan from CRF to help her open the new location. However, after securing the loan and getting started on the buildout for the new location, prices for materials skyrocketed. “The price of everything had increased since we’d received the loan. Initially we thought the build-out was going to be a certain amount, but by the time we were ready to build, everything had doubled in price.” Plans for expansion got delayed and things got back ordered because of the pandemic. Once again, she needed a loan to cover the costs, so she applied for a patient capital loan from CRF.
CRF provided her with an SBA 7(a) loan and a patient capital loan – in partnership with the City of Minneapolis – in 2021. The SBA loan proceeds helped Alicia get started on construction for the new space as well as staff, working capital, equipment, inventory, and debt.
Alicia was able to hire thirty new positions for the new location of The Buttered Tin, which opened in October 2021. Apart from the expansion with the second location, ten new products will be on the line up of The Buttered Tin Freshly Frozen and will be available for purchase at all 11 locations of Kowalski’s grocery stores.
Spark Montessori, an early childhood learning center
Spark Montessori is an early childhood learning center located in the Ravenswood neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side. The center opened in February of 2019 after converting a former 1880s horse stable into a school building. After only one year of operation, Spark was faced with Illinois’ statewide stay-at-home order and the cancellation of all classes beginning March 13, 2020. Founder, Sara Hruska needed to find a way to maintain connections with the teaching staff and the families within the Spark community. While Spark had embraced e-learning strategies, the school felt it needed to reduce the financial burden for families no longer able to send their children to in-person classes. However, with a reduction in tuition, Spark was faced with the prospect of being unable to pay its 10 employees. Hruska turned to the PPP loan as a life preserver, and CRF delivered the help the school needed to survive until in-person classes were able to resume.
“The people on the CRF team were true heroes at a time when we needed it most. The PPP loan was a massive relief. Not only did it help us pay our staff, but it also helped our families access educational support while maintaining this vital connection to our community. We’ve been so lucky to have such dedicated employees and families, and CRF helped us keep them so we can emerge stronger in the future.” Sara Hruska, Founder, Spark Montessori.
Arubah Emotional Health Services
In 2012, Anissa opened Arubah Emotional Health Services to provide a gathering place in her community where people could come and find healing through personalized and holistic treatment plans. Her mission is to enable, empower and help facilitate personal restoration by providing accessible and affordable mental health services to individuals, couples, families and groups.
Beyond her business, Anissa is a tireless advocate for accessible mental health, especially for the African American and communities with economic challenges in and around North Minneapolis. She is deeply involved in these communities through a myriad of organizations that promote healthy lifestyle choices, empower people of color, and foster community engagement.
CRF is proud to support Anissa and the work she is doing through Arubah Emotional Health Services by providing her with small business financing, which helped her purchase a building and expand in North Minneapolis.