Food and family in Brooklyn

March 27, 2023 Tarah Wolking
See how one proud stay-at-home mom and immigrant achieved her dream of owning a family restaurant.

Meet Merejilda: A restaurant owner in the beautiful multicultural neighborhood of Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

For the last two decades Merejilda has been serving up Latin and Caribbean inspired dishes to her neighborhood. But long before she had people saying, “Yes, Chef!” Merejilda would bear an even more important title: Mom.

Building a life centered around family

Merejilda came to the United States from the Dominican Republic looking to build a better life for her family. With children to take care of, Merejilda needed a job with flexible hours. But she also wanted something that would allow her some creative freedom too (which was difficult to find).

After being a being a proud stay at-home mom for over twenty years, Merejilda was finally able to land the job she always wanted. All she had to do was create it.

Becoming an entrepreneur

Merejilda saw owning a business as a chance to set her own schedule, leverage her skills—like her amazing culinary talents—and find a way to share parts of her home country with the local community.

“I always had big dreams and goals for my career,” shared Merejilda. “And it makes me happy to cook for the people I love.”

However, owning a business isn’t always smooth sailing. It takes resources and can come with unexpected challenges along the way. Thankfully, a friend introduced Merejilda to Grameen America.

Merejilda credits her membership in Grameen America with getting her through those tougher moments over the years.

Merejilda cooking at her restaurant.

Providing the resources to make dreams come true

Grameen America is the nation’s fastest-growing microfinance organization. They provide small business loans, financial education, and peer support to low-income women of color to increase their wealth and create jobs in their communities.

Merejilda is grateful for Grameen America and said the support she’s received is what’s allowed her to finally live her dream of owning a family restaurant. What makes it a family affair? Merejilda’s son often works alongside her in the kitchen and together they are able to save money for relatives and plan for the future.

“I’m so grateful for Grameen America and the friendships I’ve made through the program,” said Merejilda. “I now know I can always rely on my fellow members when I’m going through a difficult time.”

Expanding the reach through partnership

Since its founding in 2008, Grameen America has served over 150,000 women in 23 U.S. cities, distributed $2.6 billion in loans, and helped create and maintain 157,000 jobs. 

Schwab’s Community Development Group (CDG) has supported Grameen America through grants for the past two years and most recently, approved a $5 million loan to them in May 2022. This capital will be used to support Grameen America and clients like Merejilda as it deepens its presence in Dallas, TX, Schwab’s headquarter community.

With a high poverty rate of 18.6% compared to the national average of 13.4% and a high underbanked (those with little to no bank relationship) population of 54%, Dallas is a community that will greatly benefit from access to microloans, training, and support that Grameen America offers.

“Women living in underserved communities in Texas often struggle to access capital to fund their businesses,” said David Acosta, Texas Area Director at Grameen America. “Grameen America gives women the opportunity to receive fair and equal access to the financial system. In Texas, I have seen firsthand how our work has changed tens of thousands of families, and I am excited to deepen our impact to bring financial inclusion to women living in Dallas.”

Helping underserved communities

We partner with local organizations embedded in the neighborhoods they serve because they know how to best address community needs.

Read more >