'Nick of time': 187 minority, women-owned businesses benefit from Reno pandemic fund

Beto’s Mexican Food owner Rosalba De la Torre, left, and Claudia Hurtado, her daughter and employee, stand in front of the restaurant on West 5th Street in Reno. Beto’s is one of many women- and minority-owned businesses that have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic.

Beto’s Mexican Food owner Rosalba De la Torre, left, and Claudia Hurtado, her daughter and employee, stand in front of the restaurant on West 5th Street in Reno. Beto’s is one of many women- and minority-owned businesses that have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW

Claudia Hurtado was checking her phone every free moment she had.

Not to look at her own emails — rather, to check the emails being sent to her mother, Rosalba De la Torre, owner of Beto’s Mexican Food in Reno. To be clear, Hurtado had not hacked her mom.

“She gave me her email login, and I was checking every day on my phone,” said Hurtado, who is also an employee at Beto’s.

It was November 2020 and Hurtado and De la Torre were waiting to find out if Beto’s Mexican Food, which has been operating on West 5th Street near downtown Reno since 1996, was going to have the means to see its 25th anniversary this year.


Like many small businesses in the restaurant industry, Beto’s was hit hard by the pandemic.

Its sales were down more than 60% and showing no signs of improving due to the state’s capacity restrictions — 25% at the time — that allowed for only 15 people in its dining area (of note: as of Feb. 15, bars and restaurants were able to raise their capacity to 35%, with 50% on tap by March 15).

“It got to the point where she had to reduce the amount of hours for the employees dramatically — more than 50%,” Hurtado said about the situation last fall. “It was very hard.”

Beto’s Mexican Food owner Rosalba De la Torre, left, stands with staff members Fatima De la Torre (her sister), Marlén Hernández, Mari Mendiola and Claudia Hurtado (her daughter).


De la Torre had already used up the $20,000 loan she received in May from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, and she had to pull roughly $10,000 out of her own personal account and inject it into her restaurant to help keep it afloat, Hurtado said.

“She ran out of personal account money — she ran out of everything,” Hurtado said of her mother. “I told her, ‘we have to do something about this.’ We worked so hard to open this place. We don’t want to shut it down forever due to this (pandemic).”

With that, Hurtado convinced her mom to apply for The City of Reno 
Small Business Relief Fund for Minority and Women-Owned Businesses. The fund was created last fall by city officials and the Audacity Institute, a Reno-based nonprofit focused on supporting local female and minority entrepreneurs.

Reno Councilmember Oscar Delgado said he advocated for the city to allocate $2 million from the federal CARES Act to the city’s small business relief fund to launch the program.

“We started to realize the disproportionate impacts that those communities were experiencing,” Delgado said of the area’s minority- and women-owned businesses. “Small businesses are really the heart of the community. They are in many different ways intertwined with the needs of those communities.

Oscar Delgado


“And as the CARES funds started coming out, we wanted to make sure that we were supporting those communities that are being impacted.”


Nationally, up to 90% of minority- and women-owned businesses were denied relief funding from the first rounds of PPP last spring, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.

Moreover, only 12% of Black and Latinx business owners received what they asked for, according to a survey by Global Strategy Group. Those glaring statistics were no different in Reno, according to an analysis conducted by the Audacity Institute.

“It’s due to systemic biases that are in our system,” Kelly Northridge, managing partner at the Audacity Institute, told the NNBW. “All the programs that rolled out in relation to the CARES Act really highlighted some of the hurdles and some of the additional steps required of women- and minority-owned businesses.”

As an example, Northridge said PPP applications required financial statements to be reported in such a way that it would require an expert, such as an accountant, to create them.

“That can be an absolute hurdle, and it is placed there for that reason,” Northridge said. “Some of these hurdles and requirements for reporting (financial statements) are generally out of reach for small businesses.”

Kelly Northridge


Danielle Rees, also a managing partner at the Audacity Institute, said many small business owners submitted PPP applications and never heard back. Others simply struggled to get questions answered about the application form or couldn’t get through to their banks.

“There often wasn’t anyone to ask questions and they’d be on the phone for hours on hold,” Rees said. “They maybe just had one question about the form; one thing didn’t fit into that perfect box and they wondered, could they still apply for the funding?”

This is why the Audacity Institute, which oversaw outreach for the fund, translated the application process to Spanish and set up a bilingual phone line to help applicants. The organization also had bilingual representatives visit businesses to inform them of the program.

“Being able to help them navigate that process was really a huge part of what we were able to do with this program,” Rees said. “It built trust that they actually were going to get the help that they needed and that they could speak with someone locally in their native language, if necessary. We did have a large number of Spanish-speaking small business owners who applied.”


One of those was De la Torre of Beto’s. After getting help submitting her application for the relief fund in September, De la Torre and Hurtado anxiously waited for more than two months to find out if they had been selected to receive a grant.

Then, in early December, De la Torre asked Hurtado to translate an email she received from the City of Reno.

Beto’s Mexican Food owner Rosalba De la Torre stands in front of her restaurant on West 5th Street in Reno, which she opened in 1996.


“I told her it said, ‘congratulations, you qualified for $20,000,’” Hurtado said. “She was so happy, she couldn’t believe it. She wouldn’t have survived (as a business owner) without it.”

Beto’s was one of 187 Reno businesses the city and Audacity Institute were able to fund, said Northridge, noting that 81% of the recipients were women-owned businesses and 55% were minority-owned.

The average amount awarded was $10,747.

“We received several comments like ‘we received this in the nick of time,’ and ‘this will change our trajectory’ and ‘this means we can keep our doors open and can preserve through the pandemic,’” Northridge said.

The Audacity Institute estimates that the $2 million distributed to small businesses through the relief fund preserved more than 550 local jobs.

“And knowing how women- and minority-owned businesses tend to support other local businesses, we’re estimating that the local impact was $18 million,” Rees said.


Still, the number of small businesses that needed financial help was greater than what the fund could provide, Rees said.

Applications for the city’s relief fund were open for two weeks last fall leading up to an Oct. 2 deadline.

“We had 187 companies funded, but we had almost 400 companies apply, requesting $6.8 million in funding,” Rees said. “And that was just for those two short weeks that the application was open. There are many more businesses that could benefit from support and funding.”

With that in mind, the Audacity Institute is working on posting a directory of minority- and women-owned businesses on the organization’s website. This, Rees said, will give residents a resource to find and support local small businesses that may be struggling.

Moreover, the organization partnered with the Community Foundation of Western Nevada to launch a capital campaign, the Audacity Fund Reno, for women- and minority-owned businesses.

“Our goal there is for locals to fund locals,” Rees said. “Anyone can contribute to the fund. It’s a charitable contribution to the Community Foundation, and then we provide funding that the women and minority business owners deem as appropriate for their goals and their growth strategy.”


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