Even as Dorcia Whitebrake has remained focus on being a good provider for her family, her path of hard work, self-improvement and occasional entrepreneurship was preparing her to be the chosen trailblazer for a recently launched social equity initiative.
"Oh my God, the time is so right!" exclaimed Whitebrake, getting a boost to take ownership of a franchise of the company for which she has managed a store.
The company is Everytable, started six years ago as a "social enterprise" on a mission to bring affordable, fresher, healthier eating alternatives to the "food deserts" of South Los Angeles and other disadvantaged communities, where the fare is sometimes limited to fast food and convenience markets.
As Everytable looked to expand its retail outlets, the social justice reckoning of the past summer inspired the social equity franchise program to expand ownership opportunities for people of color within those communities.
Its approach is to seek out candidates, and help them move forward not only with training and coaching, but also making sure they are not held back by lack of capital.
"So we're eliminating that huge barrier and vetting folks, you know, who have entrepreneurial experience, mission-driven, community-driven, leadership, but just haven't had, you know, that access to money to get into the game," Fluellen said.
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In Whitebrake's case, her experience includes starting, staffing and running a cleanup company specializing in events--doing well, she said, until COVID-19. Also working as a teacher's aide inspired her to return to school to get her AA degree, and now she has her sights on a bachelor's degree, waiting for responses to her applications to four-year colleges.
"She embodies the type of candidate we want," Fluellen said.
Whitebrake, 53, and a mother of a teen and two grown children, came to Everytable through involvement in FEAST, a non-profit promoting wellness and healthy nutrition decisions. Whitebrake impressed Sam Polk, the former Wall Street trader who founded both, and he encouraged her to join Everytable.
"I'm able to take an opportunity and change my life," she said.
Whitebreak has already taken the helm of her Everytable, in Hollywood on Santa Monica Boulevard near Highland Avenue. The program guarantees her salary for the first three years.
Taking charge of a business during COVID-19 presents its own challenges, but Everytable's emphasis on fresh grab 'n' go meals, prepared in a central kitchen, has proven well-suited to this past year's prolonged closures of indoor restaurant dining.
Everytable also stocks fresh food pantries at community colleges, and early on during the pandemic, Everytable also partnered with the city of Los Angeles to provide home meals for seniors.
With Everytable planning to award a total of 40 franchises through the social equity program, Fluellen's challenge now is to find 39 more candidates with the right stuff.
The program has attracted attention--and financial support--from major donors, including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Annenberg Foundation, The California Wellness Foundation and Dignity Health. Last week, the foundation for the major grocery company Kroger awarded Everytable a $1 million "Build it Together" grant.
"We have a huge responsibility to see this through and make it work," said Fluellen.
Meantime, back at the Hollywood store, a visitor inquires about Whitebrake's understated necklace--a gift from her store manager--with a key inscribed, "Dream."
"Yeah! Keep dreaming," is the message Whitebrake wants to share with others who have struggled. "If you're a lower socio-economic status, if you're living below the poverty line and you have that entrepreneurial spirit--or whatever it is that you want to do--never quit, never give up. Understand that there's some support out there. Look for resources, gather that information, keep pushing, and never let anything stop you from your dreams."