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El Nopalito Delivers Hope To Small Businesses

The Chicago-based company promotes equitable values, local vendors.

Amid the pandemic, Mila Johnson Pérez started a business in an industry that has seen unprecedented growth in recent months.

Johnson Pérez, of Mexican descent, launched El Nopalito Delivery in April 2020.

El Nopalito Delivery is a home-delivery service for community products that operates mainly in the south and west of Chicago. Customers order goods through an app.

But its approach is not the same as delivery giants Uber Eats and DoorDash. Born in south Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, Johnson Pérez gave her company a social mission. El Nopalito Delivery seeks to help smaller businesses, such as street vendors selling popsicles, tamales and corn.

Online grocery deliveries and in-store pickups reached $6.1 billion in Feb. 2021, according to Statista. Johnson Pérez saw an opportunity in this trend. (Jon Tyson/Unsplash)

Johnson Pérez launched her company primarily to help small businesses reach their customers safely amid the pandemic and “to create a system to publicize the wonderful products of small businesses in our community,” she said.

El Nopalito is “an equitable delivery option,” as its fees are lower than established delivery services, which charge small businesses up to 30 percent of the total order, said the entrepreneur.

Hiring a delivery service can be expensive, which is why “many [companies] could not use this alternative to increase their sales, especially as they struggle to continue in business during the pandemic,” she said.

For now, El Nopalito Delivery has fewer than 10 employees, six of them drivers. But the company seeks to expand its coverage to other sites in Chicago and hire more staff.

“We’re thinking globally, but acting locally,” said Johnson Pérez, who pays personal visits to many of the business owners she works with, as some aren’t savvy about technology. She helps them download the app and explains how it works.

The app is available from the Apple App Store and Google Play. Through it, customers can order a variety of goods from Mexican restaurants, bakeries, ice cream parlors and other stores.

The name Nopalito (prickly pear) gives the company a Mexican touch, as the cactus is abundant in the country. (Malte Bremer/Unsplash)

Johnson Pérez has financed her company using her own resources. She has also applied for federal assistance through the Small Business Administration’s Payment Protection Program.

“As Latinos, we are resourceful, and we get the job done, no matter how small or big it is,” she said.

She hopes to expand her business nationwide. “In five years, we want to cover the whole country.”

“Joven latina se abre paso con la aplicación El Nopalito Delivery” was first published in Negocios Now

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Fern Siegel)