Building Neighborhood Economies From Within

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Hassan Ziadi

Owner of Moroccan Flavors




Midtown Global Market
920 E. Lake Street, #126
Minneapolis, MN 55407




Entrepreneur Training, Small Business Loan, Business Services    

Morocco has been shrouded in mystique since Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman hit the silver screen in the 1942 film Casablanca. In Minnesota, where most people have only experienced Hollywood’s studio representation of the country, one man has made it his mission to bring the flavors of Morocco mainstream.

Hassan Ziadi, owner of Moroccan Flavors is known for his culinary creations and caring smile. Most people do not know he’s a world-class chef who has been honored with prestigious culinary awards. His humility and kindness shines through in his incredible customer service, which includes making sure customers find the items that suit their taste. He enjoys interacting with people who discover the restaurant during their visits to the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis.   

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“When I was a lad, I wasn’t doing very well in school. My dad said, “Hassan, if you’re not doing well you need to find a profession.” – Hassan

As a young kid in Morocco, Hassan Ziadi craved adventure. With the encouragement of his father, he chose to forego sitting in a classroom to explore the world through food. Hassan remembers vacationing as a young child, observing the exemplary service patrons received, and aspired to one day help create the smiles he saw on people’s faces.  At the age of seventeen, he left home for culinary school and embarked on a career that brought him around the world. He has lived and worked as a chef in Morocco, Washington DC, France, Qatar, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, and eventually Minneapolis.

Hassan’s passion for cooking is responsible for more than just professional success, for it was in a restaurant kitchen that Hassan met his wife. 

“We met in a kitchen,” Hassan says admiringly, referring to his wife. “I told her, ‘One day we will open a restaurant and work together, side-by-side.’”

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In 2013, Hassan left Qatar to build a life for his family in Minneapolis. “I told my wife, the best place for us to raise a family is Minneapolis.” Like most immigrants to the US, he realized there would be tremendous obstacles to overcome. “I was new to this country, I had nothing. No one will give me a loan.” Through a friend, Hassan learned about NDC and all it could offer to aspiring businesses.

With one of the coveted spots in the Midtown Global Market up for grabs after the departure of Sonora Grill, Hassan sprang into action. Working with NDC, Hassan has received comprehensive business support, including training, financing, interior design, web design, and restaurant management support.

“I told Kris (NDC Client Manager & Business Advisor), ‘I like the color blue.’ She took care of the rest.” – Hassan

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She took those words and created a Moroccan oasis that includes crafted silver lamps, wooden tables and authentic ornaments. The interior design is based off of variations of a serene shade of blue, very different from the red and orange color palettes typically seen in Moroccan design.

“I always tell my friends what I miss most about Morocco is the cuisine.”

After securing a loan with NDC, Hassan focused on creating a restaurant that honored his heritage. His Mediterranean style dishes are unlike anything the Twin Cities have ever seen, creating the first traditional Moroccan restaurant in town.

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Eddie Wu

Founder & Owner of Cook St. Paul




1124 Payne Ave, St Paul, MN




Small Business Loan, Business Services

Eddie Wu always had a way with restoring things. At the age of six he started his first business selling refurbished rocks from his backyard. He hand-picked the rocks and shined them with clear nail polish giving the rocks a glow that made them a hot commodity. Some days, he would spend 10 hours selling rocks door to door.

Over the years, Eddie continued to seek out any odd jobs he could–mowing lawns, shoveling snow, running lemonade stands and even organizing garage sales. In 2014, Cook St. Paul opened in what was once a 67-year-old all-American diner on Payne Avenue. The Korean-influenced American diner prides itself on serving to a customer base that “cares about the quality of the food they eat, desires a high level of service and knows you don’t have to pay a premium for those things.”


Today, Eddie has expanded into adventurous new fields–Cook St. Paul hosts wildly popular pop-ups, showcasing one-time menus created by different local chefs/chef collaborations. He is working on selling his house-made hot sauce and signature drink–the Eddie Wu–in grocery stores. He also serves as a community leader and mentor for businesses in East Saint Paul. Eddie is someone to watch in the Twin Cities culinary scene.

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Shortly after opening Cook St. Paul, Eddie’s business partner and chef quit unexpectedly, invalidating their business plan and throwing the future of the restaurant into question. Within a couple months, Eddie found himself out $20k in unexpected expenses related to the loss of his business partner and working 12-14 hour days for weeks straight.  

Burnt out and on the brink of breaking under pressure, the most difficult decision Eddie says he has faced since opening the business was simply whether to keep it open. A $10,000 dollar loan allowed Eddie to pay off debts that threatened to push the restaurant under.  Eddie thought something like this wouldn't come for many months, if not years.

Because of NDC and its amazing staff I have been able to expand my business, actually start paying myself a livable wage and spend more time with my wife and children. —Eddie

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Cook St. Paul continued to gain recognition for its unique menu and quality food, but even though Eddie was making great sales, the restaurant stayed cash poor for months on end. It was at this difficult time that NDC Staff member Mary Kuria helped Cook catch up on accounting, improve efficiency and cut costs through weekly visits.

“Success was only limited by what I was willing to do.” –Eddie

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With insight on the cost of goods and scheduling, Ben Johnson, the Real Estate Project Developer at NDC was able to help Eddie with the technical processes of the restaurant.  Eddie explains that Ben’s “ability to look at numbers, to create, navigate, and implement spreadsheets is mind boggling.” 

After years spent at various restaurants, 5 years of service in the Marines and studying international business, Eddie’s dream for Cook St. Paul is now becoming a reality. In the end, the loss of a business partner turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Eddie now runs one of the most raved about restaurants in the Twin Cities as the City Pages Best Diner of 2015.

WHCBsign-for blog

As Ty Barnett and Shannon Forney watched the Green Line LRT being built, the actualization of a dream began. With over 20 years of expertise both managing and operating independent coffee shops, Ty always dreamed of having her own coffee bar. Shannon, an arts administrator with a M.A. in Non-Profit Administration, had just received her degree from Hamline University in 2011. While Green Line construction was underway, the couple realized the timing could not be more right for them to begin the process of starting their own business.

“Our customers are civic folks, non profiteers, artists, young families, and creative people who are connected to the neighborhood. On the weekends, parents bring their kiddos to sit in our front window and sip hot chocolate as they watch the Green Line trains go by.” Shannon Forney, Co-owner, Workhorse Coffee Bar

NDC was able to help Ty and Shannon secure a sizable SBA loan. Shannon said, “As a young couple, we didn’t have the start-up capital to launch the business without NDC. NDC was instrumental in our start-up.” The location they chose (which is located ½ block west of the Raymond Avenue LRT Green Line station in St. Paul) needed a lot of work. While the space had previously been a coffee shop, it required a major overhaul. A counter and a sink were needed, a re-design was necessary, and the infrastructure required plumbing, electric and an ADA compliant bathroom. 75% of the SBA loan received through NDC went to help with these improvements and the rest towards start-up costs. The couple is amazed and thrilled at their own success. Business has exceeded all expectations and the Pioneer Press named them as a community gathering spot. Workhorse Coffee Bar has big wooden tables for groups to hold 2-7 person meetings, which is fantastic considering they’re right in the heart of many non-profit organizations and close to a charter school.

WORKHORSE: “5 years from now, we would love to join the food truck entrepreneurs and operate a mobile espresso bar in addition to our store-front. If we can figure out the logistics of executing this vision during winter months, we are pretty sure it would be a hit.”

WORKHORSE: “We are home to the Smallest Museum in St. Paul, a community arts project to curate a micro-museum inside a vintage fire-hose cabinet just outside our front door. SMSP is a 3ft x 2ft micro museum, and was initially funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of the St. Paul Arts Challenge. This little project has had a BIG impact. The inaugural SMSP year features a range of emerging and established artists, as well as makers who do not identify as artists, but rather are historians, biologists, and administrators. This is part of the SMSP vision – that this museum is for everyone. There is no admission fee, anyone can visit and it’s open year round. The Smallest Museum in St. Paul is a space for art, humor, engagement, reaction and public discourse.”

WORKHORSE: “Ty collects vintage motorcycles, and has a love for mechanical tinkering. The love for mechanics and tinkering is a useful skill set at the coffee shop. Ty adjusts the coffee grinder and espresso machine many times throughout a typical day. To make great coffee, you have to dial in the details; water temperature, the espresso grind relative to humidity, and the characteristics of each roast of coffee bean. Ty prides herself on knowing how to adjust and account for all these factors for a consistent product. I (Shannon) have a background in theater and perform locally from time to time.”

Contact Workhorse Coffee Bar:

2399 University Ave, St Paul 55114
www.workhorsecoffee.com | 651-348-7561

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Phillip Blog post
As a solutions-oriented person, Phillip writes the following on what can be done to help change the problem discussed in our recent blog post. Read that post first, if you haven’t yet.

He writes: “In my opinion, one way to help reverse this gap is to increase the number of small, midsize and large successful African American businesses in Minnesota who collectively will hire a large number of African Americans and pay them good wages.  To accomplish this goal, the Black consumer must intentionally on a systematic bases purchase products and services from Black businesses and Black businesses must provide first class products and services to the consumer.

I recommend the following solutions because they are within the control of each individual Black consumer and each Black business owner.  These solutions are designed to increase the Black business sales, profits and brand awareness so they can in turn hire more qualified African Americans and pay them livable wages.

Black Consumers can do the following:

  • Shop Black First Sunday’s Campaign: Historically first Sundays have been a very important day in the black community which is why I suggested first Sundays.  On each first Sunday weekend of the month, each Black consumer in the state of Minnesota can make a conscience effort to purchase at least one product or service from a Black business.  Then post a photo or video on your Facebook page, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Periscope, etc. what you purchased and what business you purchase it from.  Each of us can start doing this beginning the first weekend in December.  Maybe we can get the Black radio station host a Shop Black First Sunday call in segment which will encourage you to call in and share what you purchased and where. #shopblackfirstsundays

Black Groups (Churches/Nonprofits/Greek Organizations, etc.) can do the following:

  • Black “Cash Mob” Program: Have several Black groups or organizations in the Twin Cities come together and create a formal African American Business “Cash Mob” Program. A cash mob is a group of people who assemble at a local business at a specific date and time to make purchases. The purpose of these mobs is to support both the local businesses and the overall community. Just like a loan, African American businesses would apply for the Cash Mob program. It would be an ongoing program where the goal is to increase sales, grow the company and create jobs. To make it work, we would need the support from all the various nonprofit organizations, churches, fraternities, sororities, associations, etc., to include their members in the Cash Mob event via a special design mobile app.  After each event, use social media, Black newspapers, and Black radio stations to communicate the results to the community.  If this program already exists in the Black community that’s great, let’s work together to expand it.
  • Create an African American Angel Investor Network by establishing a formal way for Black entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas to wealthy African Americans who would invest in their business for an equity stake in their company. Another way Black businesses may be able to grow quicker and hire people and pay them a livable wage.  If anyone knows of a Twin Cities African American Angel Investor Group, I would like to connect them.

Black Business Owners can do the following:

  • Join a Peer Networking Group: Join a peer networking group that is design to help you solve problems and grow your business.  A good peer networking group is worth their weight in gold.
  • Become a Mentor: Successful Black business owners become a mentor to one small Black business owner and help them to grow into a large successful Black business owner so they can hire qualified African Americans. If you are a small business owner don’t wait for a success business owner to find and contact you, you reach out to them.
  • Business Collaborations: Establish formal collaborative relationships with other businesses and organizations that has your same target market.
  • Crowdfunding Campaign: Create a formal crowd funding campaign program to leverage additional capital for your business – this is also good for getting the word out in the community creates a marketing opportunity.
  • Consider becoming an approved vendor for the City of Minneapolis & City of St. Paul. Most businesses think that the city only utilize the services of businesses in the construction industry.  However, the cities does purchase many other products and services.   For more information contact the City of Minneapolis and City of St. Paul.  There are also nonprofit that can assist you in becoming an approved vendor for the city.  During business with the city can help grow your business so you can hire qualified African Americans.”

All of us at NDC and the community at large are grateful for the input and expertise of Phillip. What are your thoughts? Do you have additional ideas? How do we take the next step?

With years of exceptional customer service skills on his resume, and a passion for helping people with special needs, Mustafa Wake decided to open his own business, Safe Tree Transportation. Mustafa emigrated to the USA in 1999, attended high school at Southwest High School in Minneapolis and obtained an Associate’s Degree from Normandale Community College. His customer service skills came shining through as an employee at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel and from there, as a driver with the School Bus Transportation Company.

“The best thing about being an entrepreneur is having the ability to put your dreams in action. The freedom it gives you enlightens your personal beliefs and confidence in yourself.”
Mustafa Wake, Owner of Safe Tree Transportation.

He was promoted to Transportation Manager where he further developed great management skills and then with the support of wonderful people, he opened Safe Tree Transportation. A focus for Safe Tree is to serve students with versatile needs. All of these students go in and out of district schools for a variety of reasons. This niche market is where Safe Tree does a great job by going door-to-door and providing individualized services. Currently, the company has 30 vehicles and 32 employees. They anticipate that they will double these numbers by the end of 2016.

Mustafa attended NDC’s Oromo speaking training class with trainer Teshite Wako. With the help of the entrepreneur training class and NDC’s lending department, Safe Tree has sped past it’s competition in the market. One of their biggest challenges initially was the lack of start-up capital and access to credit history, but with NDC’s assistance they obtained a loan from NDC and purchased more vehicles in 2015, enabling the company to grow quickly.

Most of the employees at Safe Tree are of Oromo background. Mustafa is proud to be able to employ people from his community. Well-established positive relationships with the school districts during the past 10 years means that Safe Tree has no shortage of business opportunities. They continue to grow every day and have generated a business that is considered safe, reliable and stable in their industry.

Read more on what Mustafa Wake, owner of Safe Tree Transportation has to say about his experience so far as an entrepreneur:

NDC: What motivated you to start your own business?
MUSTAFA: “I decided to start my own business due to the experience I have developed during my tenure as a Transportation Manger and my customer services skills.”

NDC: What’s difficult about being an entrepreneur?
MUSTAFA: “The time and energy it consumes. You have to put in more energy and be away from family for longer periods of time.”

NDC: What is your business’ biggest accomplishment to date?
MUSTAFA: “After only one year in business, we were able to provide an outstanding service to our customers. Moreover, we have been able to provide employment opportunities to more than 30 employees.”

Contact Safe Tree Transportation: 
7275 Commerce Circle W.
Fridley, MN 55432
(612) 226-4789 or (763) 270-5927

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