Carmen Montes and Carlos Barcenas contributed to this story. Para la versión en español, oprima aquí.
As a child in El Salvador, Wilmer Linares watched his family bake bread and learned the recipes and methods that had been used for generations. Passed down from his beloved grandmother and hardworking mother, those skills are what Wilmer now uses to provide for his family.
Wilmer moved to the U.S. in 2001 when he was 18. In 2003, he moved from New York City to Fremont, Nebraska, and has been there since. Over the years, he worked for other people, but his desire to carry on his family traditions eventually led him to become a business owner.
“We kind of fell in love with Fremont after my family and I had been living here for so long,” said Wilmer. “Our kids have grown here so we decided to stay. The town has grown quite a bit, and we thought it was a good place to establish our business.”
To open his business, Wilmer reached out to the Center for Rural Affairs for financial assistance. Latino Loan Specialist Veronica Spindola guided Wilmer through the loan application process, and in March 2020, he received a loan for $45,900 for start-up costs and to purchase equipment.
On Oct. 3, 2020, Wilmer and his wife, Alma Salas, opened their bakery and grocery store. He called it Mamá Chencha Tienda y Panaderia, in honor of his grandmother.
“Wilmer and Alma are hard passionate workers, they get to the bakery early in the morning and start baking so there is bread ready at opening time,” said Veronica. “Since they have children, they take turns caring for them and the business at the same time. Their business is growing and they plan to keep growing, and the Center is here to help them reach their goals.”
Wilmer also worked with a Center contractor to make sure he had the correct permits and licenses to run a business in Nebraska.
“I am very satisfied with the assistance I received from the Center,” said Wilmer. “Any time I've needed that type of help, they have always been there for me.”
He is so passionate about bread that he received mentoring from a fellow El Salavadorian living in Boston who traveled to Fremont to teach Wilmer how to bake more varieties of authentic breads for his customers.
“Even though my family has been baking for many generations, we only knew how to make a few different types,” said Wilmer. “I wanted to offer more than that at my business. It was a big challenge, but in three weeks I learned to bake more recipes, and now we offer 20 to 25 different types of bread and pastries that we make every day.”
Wilmer, his wife, and one other full-time employee manage the store. Depending on demand, Wilmer bakes about 2,000 pieces of bread each day. They offer a variety of baked goods and breads, including their best-selling quesadillas. They also sell milk-based products, items from Central America and Mexico, fruits and vegetables, and more.
Pleasing his customers is a top priority for Wilmer. When they ask for certain items to be added to their store, he does what he can to accommodate their requests. He is working with Veronica to apply for another loan to keep expanding, including adding deli meat sales.
“We hope to continue to grow as any other entrepreneurs—you start with a small business and you grow little by little, and you try to learn and adjust to see what your clients are asking for,” said Wilmer. “The customers really are the ones who give you the ideas of what's next and guide the business.”
Wilmer says he’s proof that dreams can come true.
“Every time I open the door I remember when it used to be a dream and now it's a reality, and at times it's hard to believe that you're able to achieve your goals, but it's definitely possible,” he said. “Fight for your dream to become reality. Look for information and ask others who are already running their business for guidance, and don't be afraid. On the way, you will find people that will help you and support you.”
He recommends the Center’s resources and services to up and coming business owners, saying his experience has led him to become a successful business owner.
“People ask me how I was able to make this happen, and I believe if I didn’t have help from the Center, I would not have been able to realize my dream,” said Wilmer.
Do you dream of owning your own business? To learn more about the Center’s small business resources or to apply for a loan, visit cfra.org/lending.
At a glance
Mamá Chencha Tienda y Panaderia, LLC
25 W. Sixth St.
Hours: Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.