When 14-year-old MBA Liz Abunaw stepped off bus number 66 in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood six years ago, she had no plans to change her life. She was looking for a bank.
“I had an errand and didn’t realize the errand address was in Austin,” said the upstate New York native and a graduate of the Polsky Center’s Small Business Growth Program. “I needed to get some cash, but I couldn’t find a bank or drugstore that would do a small purchase and give me my cash back.
“Looking around, I quickly realized that the amenities I was familiar with in neighborhoods like the South Loop, Wicker Park, and Lincoln Park were not easily accessible in this area. Are you doing it?” I began to think. where do they work where are they banking?
That observation stuck with her over the years, crystallizing into the business idea that became Forty Acres Fresh Market while she was shopping at the popular produce market.
“I used to buy strawberries in Stanley at ridiculously low prices, but I thought something like this must be in Austin,” he says, working at General Mills for 10 years before earning an MBA in college. said Abunaw, a veteran of the food industry who has been of Chicago. “People say the barrier to eating healthier is that healthy foods are more expensive, but these things were cheap. So we started talking about how we could open a Stanley’s on the West Side, and eventually someone was like, ‘Oh, I’d love to try that.'”
take the first step
In 2018, Abunaw started pursuing this idea. She started by talking to Austin business and community leaders, entrepreneurs living in the Polsky Center, and others. They encouraged her to audit the city’s produce markets to understand the business and pricing model.
The research and conversations led to connections and opportunities that eventually led to pop-up markets at Austin’s community centers. The results were modest (around 30 customers and $500 in revenue), but a snowball effect set in and led Abunaw to his next move. This includes pop-up markets in additional regions, retail testing with pop-up storefronts, and delivery services.
She also started applying for small business grants. Forty Acres’ early prize money included her $185,000 from the Healthy Food Financing Initiative and her $150,000 from the American Heart Association’s Social Her Impact Fund. These awards, combined with the surge in delivery orders during the pandemic, convinced Abunaw that the venture could be successful.
“These were two inflection points where I knew we could grow,” she said. And the pandemic has made a big difference in how people shop: Nobody wanted to go to the grocery store, and when they did, the shelves were bare. After the murder of George Floyd in June 2020, 2020 was a breakout year for us because of the big move to support local businesses and support black-owned businesses. rice field.”
Abunaw is now interested in opening a physical store. In her 2020, she partnered with local nonprofit Westside Health Authority to purchase an old Salvation Army building in Austin. They plan to transform the building into a full-service wet market with produce, meats, ready meals, dry goods, chilled and frozen groceries, and general commodities.
In 2022, Abunaw received a $2.5 million grant from the City of Chicago to fund renovations. She also recently received her $50,000 Ingredients for Success grant from cookie brand Famous Amos. It said it would use this for pre-opening expenses for stores, such as employee training and marketing.
The building permit for the store is currently under review with the city. Upon completion of construction, the Forty Acres Fresh Market operations will be expanded. Abunaw will continue to sell and manage the Austin Town Hall City Market on Thursdays in the summer and fall, host pop-up markets, and provide delivery services.
“We will continue to meet the need for affordable, fresh, healthy food in areas with limited access,” she said.
Follow Forty Acres Fresh Market on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest (@fortyacresfreshmarket), Twitter (@40acresfresh) and Tik Tok (@40acresfreshmarket).