Marquas Ashworth doesn’t plan to break ground on his Center @ Sixth project until spring, but he’s already sending two businesses through his incubator program.
Once completed, the building at 1714 Sixth Ave. will house a non-profit organization that helps black and brown entrepreneurs build their businesses with the help of area professionals such as attorneys, accountants and planners.
To help test the concept, he’s working with Nadia La Baker and Jambo African Cuisine, helping both open stands at the downtown Des Moines farmers market. Ashworth said the concept seems to be working and the two owners have regularly sold their products every Saturday.
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“It’s been cool to see it work,” he said, adding “It’s more fun than making money, making music, making whiskey.” Beyond developing Center @ Sixth, Ashworth is a hip-hop artist, producer and founder of Media Fresh Records and creator of small batch whiskey Ziyad Rye.
To get the businesses off the ground, Center @ Sixth, in partnership with Principal Financial Group and EMC Insurance Cos., covered upfront costs for essentials like pop-up tents, cash registers, tables and signage — “everything these businesses need slide and start making money,” Ashworth said. She also paid their Farmers Market fees, which can be more than $1,000, said Aminatha Mkama, owner of Jambo African Cuisine.
“It’s helped me a lot, especially since I’m starting out, of course,” she said. “I would have to buy all that stuff while still investing heavily in this business.
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Mkama sells East African cuisine, mostly from Tanzania, where she is originally from. The main course is a creamy coconut rice filled with chicken, beans and vegetables.
She said she wasn’t sure Iowans would embrace her cuisine — especially at 7 a.m. — but that the customer base she built as a foodie and at festivals has grown tremendously since she started just a month ago. Last week’s market was slow because of the Iowa State Fair, she said, but she was left with just four servings by the time the market closed.
“I am very blessed,” Mkama said. “We have a lot of customers that we’ve met from festivals, so I see them almost every Saturday. They’re coming in to get their lunch, their dinner.”
Ashworth said Nadia La Baker, who started on the market a few weeks ago, is in the same position. Owner Nadia Ahissou, a French-style home baker of croissants, baguettes and other pastries, has already been able to upgrade her equipment and is looking for a storefront, he said. could not be reached for comment.
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Meanwhile, Ashworth is preparing to break ground on the four-story, $10 million development in the spring. The first floor will include three anchor tenants – a local coffee shop and a yet-to-be-announced restaurant, as well as a tasting room for Ashworth’s Ziyad Rye, featuring new and favorite products plus guest pours from other whiskey producers. black and brown.
Between the anchors, there will be 1,000 square feet of retail space and two food stands for businesses passing through the incubator. Products will rotate as businesses come in and out of the program, with the idea that customers can stop by every day and find something new.
“It’s going to be mimosas one day and samosas the next,” Ashworth said.
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The mezzanine will have classes for entrepreneurs to learn business skills and offices they can use. Ultimately, the goal is to get business owners ready to go out on their own, whether it’s a storefront or a partnership with another business. Hy-Vee has committed to selling some of the successful products, Ashworth said.
The building will also have 32 apartments, with 51% of the units reserved for tenants earning 80% or less of the area’s median income.
The Center @ Sixth recently received $1.8 million in tax increment financing from the Des Moines City Council. The council also agreed to provide a $300,000 match if the Iowa Economic Development Authority selects Ashworth for a grant from the state’s new Nonprofit Innovation Fund. Gov. Kim Reynolds created the $20 million fund this year with federal American Rescue Plan Act money to help nonprofits expand to meet the needs of Iowans.
Ashworth said he was personally invited by Reynolds to apply. Eligible expenses include costs for construction, acquisition, site development, engineering and architectural services.
The Center @ Sixth is also accepting donations through the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines.
Construction should take about 14 months.