Liz Abunau, MBA’14, didn’t want to change her life when she got off the 66 bus in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood six years ago. She was looking for a bank.
“I was running a case and I didn’t realize my scale address was in Austin,” said the Upstate New Yorker and native of the Polsky Center’s Small Business Growth Program. “I had to get cash and I didn’t see a bank or drug store where I could buy a little and get cash back.
“Looking around, I quickly realized that the amenities I used to find in neighborhoods like the South Loop, Wicker Park, and Lincoln Park were not easily accessible in this area. ‘Where do people in this neighborhood shop? Where do they work? Where are the banks?’
That observation stayed with her for years, and when she shopped at the popular produce market, she came up with the business idea for Forty Acres Fresh Market.
“I was buying strawberries at Stanley’s at a ridiculously low price and realized something like this had to exist in Austin,” said Abunaw, a food industry veteran who worked at General Mills for a decade. of Chicago. “People say the barrier to healthy eating is that healthy food is expensive, but this thing was cheap. I knew a store like this was going to go gangbusters, and I started talking about how someone should open a Stanley on the West Side. Eventually someone said, ‘Oh, maybe I want to try that.’ It will happen’.
Take the first steps
In the year In 2018, Abunaw started pursuing this idea. She started by talking to people, including business and social leaders in Austin and an entrepreneur living in the Polsky Center, who encouraged her to develop markets in the city to understand their business and pricing models.
The research and discussions led to connections and opportunities that ultimately led to a pop-up market in the Austin Community Center. While the results were modest — about 30 customers and $500 in revenue — it started a snowball effect that led Abounu to her next move, pop-up markets in additional neighborhoods, a retail experiment with pop-up storefronts, and a delivery service.
She started applying for small business grants. Forty Acres’ previous awards included $185,000 from the Healthy Food Finance Initiative and $150,000 from the American Heart Association’s Social Impact Fund. These awards, combined with the explosion order received at the time of the outbreak, convinced Abunen that this initiative could succeed.
“Those were the two defining points where I knew we could grow,” she said. “The money allowed me to do a lot of things that I wanted to do, like advertising and finding stores for our products. And the pandemic has changed the way people shop. No one wanted to go to the grocery store and when they did, the shelves were empty. There was also a strong push to support local businesses and black-owned businesses following the June 2020 killing of George Floyd. That helped make 2020 a winning year for us.
Abunaw now faces brick and mortar stores. In the year In 2020, she partnered with local nonprofit Westside Health Authority to purchase the old Salvation Army building in Austin. They plan to convert the building into a full-service fresh market with produce, meat, prepared foods, dry, frozen and frozen groceries and general merchandise.
In the year In 2022, Abuna received a $2.5 million grant from the City of Chicago to help fund the renovation. She also recently received a $50,000 Resources for Success grant from cookie brand Famous Amos, which she says she will use to cover the store’s pre-opening costs, including staff training and marketing.
A building permit for the store is currently being reviewed with the city. Once built, the forty-acre fresh market will allow for expansion of operations. Abunau will continue to sell and manage the Austin City Hall City Market, organize pop-up markets and provide delivery services during the summer and fall.
“We continue to fill the need for affordable, fresh and healthy food in neighborhoods with limited access,” she said.
Follow Forty Acres Fresh Market on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest at @fortyacresfreshmarket, Twitter at @40acresfresh, and Tik Tok at @40acresfreshmarket.
Article by Devon McPhee, freelance writer and editor and owner of DM Editorial Services, LLC. Devon has over 20 years of experience spanning business, science and technology, health and medicine and higher education.