According to research by the nonprofit New American Economy, the Philadelphia metro area boasts more than 46,000 immigrant entrepreneurs. But despite these business owners' ambition, they still face challenges that U.S.-born entrepreneurs will never have to endure. Enter the Philadelphia startup Eat Up The Borders, which offers support for immigrant-owned businesses and specializes in marketing and event planning. Cindy Ngo, KLN '17, is one of the co-founders of Eat Up The Borders and a communication studies graduate of Klein College of Media and Communication, where she developed many of these skills. But her background has an even more personal impact on her desire to help immigrant business owners.
Ngo grew up with immigrant parents and multicultural heritage. Her mother, a Guatemalan migrant, dreamed of owning a restaurant; similarly, her Vietnamese father wanted to make the entrepreneurial "American Dream" a reality.
The family opened a pizzeria, but the business struggled. Without knowledge of proper marketing practices or even a reliable word-of-mouth system, it was hard to build a steady customer base. Difficulties with the business also arose because the family faced discrimination. Ultimately, they had to sell the pizzeria, and Ngo's mother was crushed. For Ngo, it was a lesson: marketing and supportive community members can make or break a business's success.
As Ngo studied at Klein College, she was motivated to keep her mission of supporting immigrant businesses in mind. After graduating, she interned at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, a nonprofit with resources to support Pennsylvania immigrants. Through the Youth Entrepreneurship Leadership Network, which is affiliated with the efforts of the Welcoming Center, she met Asmah Mahboubi, FOX '19, whose parents emigrated from Afghanistan to the United States. The two partnered to create Eat Up The Borders to help immigrant restaurant owners with their branding strategies.
Soon, Eat Up The Borders began hosting community cooking classes and supporting local artists with their marketing. With the help of photographer Chris "Chip" Coughlan, KLN '16, and blogger Cierra Williams, KLN '17, the startup has worked with businesses and individuals around the city, using great food and unforgettable experiences to bring together community members with linguistic and cultural differences.
"We wanna give that support to every immigrant business that [works with us] because not everyone has the tools or the finances to hire a photographer or know how to do marketing," says Ngo.
Eat Up The Borders' most successful event took place last September. "Taste of Culture: Home for Everyone" showcased the cuisine of Eat Up The Borders' clientele, but also featured a solid turnout and activities led by community artists. Dance lessons, live art, a DJ and vendors all helped create an atmosphere of togetherness.
In the long run, Ngo and Mahboubi hope to open a community center that can facilitate all of the events that Eat Up The Borders supports and creates. Eventually, they want to take on an intern to help with social media and content creation. With endless opportunities to promote diversity in Philadelphia, there are many more avenues that they can — and will — explore.