Latino-owned businesses are on the rise

  • Octavio Diaz, owner of Agave Mexican Restaurant in Healdsburg, mixes a drink for a customer as Carlos Chavez sits at the bar on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

Octavio Diaz, owner of Agave Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar in Healdsburg, offers food that's very close to his heart, whether its his tequila-cilantro vinaigrette, his mother's Oaxacan mole or the giant shrimp he marinates in Centinela tequila.

Diaz, 34, is quick to point out — with all due respect — that the food he offers at his 13-month-old restaurant isn't the usual offering of tacos, burritos, rice and beans.

"Taquerias were the foundation," Diaz said. "That's why we're here and that's why we've evolved from that foundation."

His endeavor, he says, represents a "new vision" of Latino business, one that builds on the foundation of previous generations of Latino-owned businesses, and one that takes advantage of a growing number of educated and middle class Latinos and the mainstreaming of Latino culture.

During the past decade, the number of Latino-owned businesses in Sonoma County has grown dramatically, according to a national survey of business owners conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau every five years.

County-wide data, released Thursday, found that the number of Latino-owned businesses went from 2,765 in 2002 to 4,096 in 2007, an increase of 48 percent. By comparison, the number of non-Latino businesses in the county during the same period grew to 48,362 from 45,525, an increase of 6.2 percent.

That growth mirrors both national and statewide trends showing the rapid growth of Latino and minority-owned businesses.

In 2007, when the most recent business owner survey was taken, minority-owned firms numbered 5.8 million, up from 4 million in 2002, an increase of 45.5 percent. The national results were also released this week.

Of those, Latinos owned 2.3 million non-farm businesses, one million of which were owned by people of Mexican descent in 2007, an increase of 43 percent over 2002. In contrast, the number of non-Latino, non-farm businesses increased 14 percent to 23.8 million.

The survey tells a story that some local and state officials can only appreciate anecdotally, as Latino mom and pop businesses continue to appear throughout the county. Neither municipal, county nor state officials track business growth by ethnicity, local and state government officials said.

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