Grant: The restaurant on Rose Ave. has been in business since November of 2018. Wonho Frank Lee

Chulita Mexican restaurant in Venice was selected as one of 100 restaurants to participate in a nationwide small business accelerator program, designed to support BIPOC and woman owned restaurants hit hard by the pandemic.

The founder and owner Shireen Imani expressed surprise and delight to be admitted into the inaugural program, which is funded by DoorDash and run with the assistance of Accion Opportunity Fund.

“Honestly, I didn’t think I’d get it. I’m not that lucky generally, but I truly am excited about it,” said Imani.

Imani opened Chulita on Rose Avenue in November of 2018, and intended it to be a cosy casual neighborhood joint where locals could swing by for a mezcal cocktail and some tacos without having to worry about having a reservation or dealing with hordes of Instagrammers.

Her restaurant is unique in that it is an entirely woman run team, hence the name Chulita, which is Spanish slang for beautiful woman. The bright and beachy restaurant is full of natural textiles and lush greenery, offering a laid back atmosphere perfect for tucking into a range of ‘botanas y mezcales’ — Mexican drinking food.

As with any small business, surviving the first year was an uphill battle between payroll taxes, permits and licenses and minimum wages. Fortunately, Imani’s ‘neighborhood-first’ model caught on and she gained a loyal local following, but before she could carry that momentum into a profitable second year the pandemic put her business at a standstill.

“The hardest thing for me is not so much where am I going to get the money to support my business, it’s how do I support all these people,” said Imani, referring to her employees. “There’s no worse feeling in the world than your team looking at you for support and not having the ability to do that.”

In order to weather the pandemic the Chulita team pivoted to a to-go model, started canning their cocktails and built three different outdoor dining set-ups. They also prioritized keeping employees who were not eligible for unemployment on payroll, while having other team members take advantage of boosted government benefits.

Imani is grateful for the $20,000 grant that comes with DoorDash’s Main St. Strong Accelerator program, and intends on setting a significant portion aside to cover payroll. She also looks forward to the eight week training module that will provide hands-on mentorship and small business advising.

“One of the negatives of the pandemic is that you become so entrenched in your business. I’ve literally worked every single day and night inside the restaurant,” said Imani. “I think that being able to set aside the time to learn something and see what else is going on out there is exciting for me.”

The training program focuses on the most pertinent issues facing small business owners such as marketing, accessing capital, navigating the licensing process, integrating technology, and scaling your business. For Imani, who has truly relied on word of mouth and neighborhood loyalty, the social media and marketing training is especially appealing.

Operating a small business restaurant in LA has always been an exceedingly difficult task and rising minimum wages coupled with the economic challenges of the pandemic have made it near impossible for many owners. The Chulita team is incredibly pleased to receive this support and be able to continue providing a bright and happy gathering spot for the surrounding Venice and Ocean Park community.