Center@Sixth Helps Launch Black-Owned Businesses Into Farmers’ Market

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Marquas Ashworth doesn’t plan to launch his Center@Sixth project until the spring, but he’s already sending two companies through his incubator program.

When completed, the building at 1714 Sixth Ave. will house a non-profit organization that helps black and brown entrepreneurs build their businesses with the help of local professionals such as lawyers, accountants and planners.

To help test the concept, he’s working with Nadia La Baker and Jambo African Cuisine, helping the two launch stalls at the farmers’ market in downtown Des Moines. Ashworth said the concept seems to be working, and the two owners regularly sell their products every Saturday.

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“It was cool to see it working,” he said, adding “It’s more fun than making money, making music, making whiskey.” Beyond the development of Center @ Sixth, Ashworth is a hip-hop artist, producer and founder of Media Fresh Records and creator of the Ziyad Rye small batch whiskey.

To get the businesses started, Center@Sixth, in partnership with Principal Financial Group and EMC Insurance Cos., covered the initial costs of necessities such as pop-up tents, cash registers, tables and signage – “everything these businesses need to slide in and start making money,” Ashworth said. He also paid for their farmer’s market fees, which can exceed $1,000, said Aminatha Mkama, owner of Jambo African Cuisine.

“It helped me a lot, especially since I started, of course,” she said. “I should buy all these things while I was still investing heavily in this business.”

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Mkama sells East African cuisine, mainly from Tanzania, where she was originally from. The main dish is coconut cream rice filled with chicken, beans and vegetables.

She said she wasn’t sure Iowans would embrace her cuisine — especially at 7 a.m. — but the clientele she’s built up as a caterer and at festivals has grown significantly. increased since its debut just a month ago. Last week’s market was slow due to the Iowa State Fair, she said, but she had only four servings left when the market closed.

“I am so blessed,” Mkama said. “We have a lot of clients that we have met from festivals, so I see them almost every Saturday. They come to get their lunch, their dinner.”

Ashworth said Nadia La Baker, who started at the market a few weeks earlier, is in the same position. Owner Nadia Ahissou, a French-style baker of croissants, baguettes and other pastries, has already been able to upgrade her equipment and is looking for a display case, he said. could not be reached for comment.

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Meanwhile, Ashworth is preparing to break ground on the four-story, $10 million development this spring. The first floor will feature three anchor tenants – a local cafe and restaurant which has yet to be announced, as well as a tasting room for Ashworth’s Ziyad Rye, featuring new and favorite produce and guests from around the world. other black and brown whiskey producers. .

Between the anchors will be 1,000 square feet of retail space and two food stalls for businesses passing through the incubator. Products will rotate as businesses enter and exit the program, with the idea that customers can drop by any day and find something new.

“It will be mimosas one day and samosas another day,” Ashworth said.

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The mezzanine will have classrooms for entrepreneurs to learn business skills and offices for them to use. Ultimately, the goal is to prepare business owners to go it alone, whether in a storefront or in partnership with another business. Hy-Vee is committed to selling some of the successful products, Ashworth said.

The building will also have 32 apartments, 51% of which will be reserved for tenants earning 80% or less of the region’s median income.

Center@Sixth recently received $1.8 million in additional tax funding from the Des Moines City Council. The board also agreed to provide a $300,000 match should the Iowa Economic Development Authority select Ashworth for a grant from the state’s new nonprofit Innovation Fund. Governor Kim Reynolds created the $20 million fund this year with U.S. federal Rescue Plan Act money to help nonprofits grow to meet the needs of Iowans.

Ashworth said he was personally invited by Reynolds to apply. Eligible expenditures include construction, acquisition, site development, engineering and architectural services.

Center@Sixth is also accepting donations through the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines.

Construction is expected to take approximately 14 months.

Kim Norvell covers the growth and development of the registry. Contact her at knorvell@dmreg.com or 515-284-8259. Follow her on Twitter @KimNorvellDMR.

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