Immigrant-Led Food Startups Face an Uphill Battle in the Pandemic

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This story was originally published on Civil Eats.

This spring, as Tarun Bhalla was testing out eight-ounce curry packets for a new line of meal kits, he found that they had a tendency to burst open in a shipping test. He’s been looking for a company that can manufacture stronger packets ever since, but he still hasn’t found one. And meetings are hard to arrange during a global pandemic.
Bhalla and his wife Anu launched Meal Mantra brand curries in 2016, and they had just begun ramping up production when the coronavirus hit. They turned to the idea of selling meal kits after their biggest client closed, grant applications were denied, federal aid was out of reach, and bank loans were looking impossible. Bhalla has no backup plan and no clear path forward.
“That’s all we think about,” says Bhalla. “We have to see this year out. It’s survival, that’s it.”
The Bhallas and countless food entrepreneurs like them are essential contributors to a diverse economic landscape. They enrich cultural exchange through culinary diplomacy. They’re immigrants, they’re working parents, and they’re lifting themselves out of poorly paid wage work. And yet when it …

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