Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Nonprofit My Sister’s House is all business on buttoned-down Capitol Mall

Cathie Anderson
Cathie Anderson

My Sister’s House opened a cafe at Sacramento’s 455 Capitol Mall Building, a brick-and-mortar victory for Executive Director Nilda Guanzon Valmores and her board, who set out five years ago to create other revenue sources.

The nonprofit agency provides a safe haven and opportunities to Asian and Pacific Islander women and children trying to escape homes ruled by domestic violence. Valmores told me that the budget for her 13-year-old agency, now at $800,000, continued to grow despite the recession, which forced virtually every nonprofit to rethink fundraising strategies.

At My Sister’s House, the staff and directors asked young people to come up with revenue-generating ideas and then the leaders selected the most viable one. The idea of a cafe featuring a variety of teas, soups, salads and sandwiches was the winner. The Blue Shield Foundation gave the nonprofit $150,000 over a two-year period to do the research and set up shop. The Teichert Foundation and Soroptimist of Sacramento also brought funding to the table.

Still, Valmores needed a linchpin player, someone who had restaurant experience and a commitment to the agency. She found what she was seeking in Jenny Vo, a former AmeriCorps volunteer who jumped into the project last September and helped to steer My Sister’s Cafe into its new home in Suite 110, located in the breezeway behind the big 455 building sign. Valmores and Vo saw their business proposals rejected by a few landlords before they got this site.

“There was a lot of documentation that was required that we weren’t prepared for, things we didn’t know we needed, but it was great because it really made us put together and finalize what our concept was going to be and what we wanted and what our projections were,” Vo said. “Even though we were rejected, we already had something ready for this site when we came to it.”

Volunteers will make up the majority of the cafe’s staff, Valmores said.

Former restaurateur Putu Blanco, now a partner in the Paul Blanco Good Car Co., donated equipment and expertise to My Sister’s Cafe, reducing startup costs. Restaurateurs Liz Mishler of Bella Bru Cafe and Chris Nestor of the nearby House Kitchen & Bar also stepped up.

“They’ve given us a lot of advice that has put us ahead of if we’d just started from scratch,” Vo said. “They let us know who the cheaper vendors are, where we can get better quality products, what volume we should make and how we should be pricing our items.”

Right now, about three-quarters of Valmores’ budget is made up of restricted funds from government and foundations. The cafe’s success will allow Valmores to respond to other client needs.

Birds of a feather

Tiffany Latino is continuing a 35-year-old family tradition, buying The Bird Shop at 5553 Auburn Blvd. that her mother and grandfather had both owned.

Latino, who’s now 52 years old, began working for her mother, Sharon Garsee, back when she was 16 years old. Although she left and held other jobs, Latino appears to be something of a homing pigeon. The majority of her working years have been spent caring for colorful finches, parakeets, macaws, cockatoos and cockatiels. She’s been chirped at, screeched down and even given orders by feathered show-offs who fetch anywhere from $15.95 to $1,500.

Latino hopes her 28-year-old daughter, Brianna Latino, will buy the store from her one day. Like her mom, the younger Latino has worked at the store since she was 16 and now often brings in her 3-year-old daughter, Kylie Murphy. But it was Garsee’s father, William Whitten, who started the trend of grooming the next owner in the family. Whitten and his wife, Vivian, have since died, but their store is still home to their 45-year-old female double yellow-headed Amazon, Fred.

That’s the thing about birds and exotic bird businesses. They are so long-lived that they often endure long after their owners have expired.

“It’s a commitment,” Latino said. “You have to put the birds in your will. You have to hope your kids like them, too, so you can pass them down, but I do have some customers that are going to will them to The Bird Shop so we can find them a home.”

The Bird Shop has just about as many toys for man’s feathered friends as Toys R Us has for kids, and there are pounds upon pounds of pellets and seeds.

It’s just plain Sinful

Mariel Black, the purveyor of Sinful Treats, doesn’t feel an ounce of guilt about expanding her business at 5640 Whitelock Pkwy. in Elk Grove. She expanded into a 2,000-square-foot space just across the sidewalk from her first site. Longtime readers will recall that Black started her bakery as an online business during the recession. Although her commercial kitchen had no sign, customers tracked her down and began knocking on the door to buy Food for the Gods and other treats. Last August, Black moved to her new space and did something downright wicked just before Christmas. She hung up a Sinful Treats sign facing the roadway. Her December sales doubled, and that trend has continued every month since.