Flying The Banner of ‘Blacked Owned Business’ Was Not My First Choice in San Antonio.

Written by Paula Sullivan, Owner of Carmens De La Calle

In the spirit of uplifting Small, Minority, and Women-Owned businesses throughout the year, Centro San Antonio would like to amplify the story of Paula Sullivan, local restaurateur and owner of Carmens de la Calle in downtown San Antonio, in her own words.

Twenty years ago when I opened Carmens de la Calle, my intentions were to enrich my own knowledge about our cultural intersections and share my discoveries in a curated environment with small plates (tapas) and performing arts while earning a living doing it. Why would I have thought that emphasizing black owned would tilt the business success scale in my favor in a city where the ethnic demographic was 58.66% Hispanic/Latino, 31.83% White, 6.53% Black/African American and 1.49% Asian? If I had introduced my business as black owned from the start, would that have given the impression of a bias on my part in either direction, before my anticipated customers ever walked through the doors? Just like proclaiming ‘black lives matter’ does not imply all other lives do not, black owned business does not signal a prioritization or preference for black customers. But, as I learned during my years within the corporate ranks, skewed perceptions can be difficult to rectify. This is just part of the complexity of being an African American business owner in San Antonio.

Over the years the discovery that Carmens de la Calle is a black owned business and that the owner’s name is not Carmen has functioned as an unexpected reveal with a friendly wink. Every business has its naysayers and in the course of mine I have definitely challenged intolerant thinking in the areas of culture, food and music.

Will today’s environment of fast-tracked social consciousness, as it pertains to the African American experience result in lasting economic progress for the black small business owner in San Antonio? I hope so.

I relocated Carmens de la Calle to the central downtown area in 2014. Running a business in the downtown area is a challenge and commendable no matter what ethnic group you identify with. I find it exciting to be part of urban growth. Every day, I witness how each economic level is affected by the city’s rapid growth; so it is encouraging to read about our city’s commitment to closing the racial outcome gaps in its Racial Equity Indicator Report.

I am fortunate to have been able to create an accessible place which I hope evokes a sense of pride from all who experience any aspect of the business. In 2020 we celebrated 20 years and for obvious reasons we could not have a proper celebration of this accomplishment. Lately I have been untroubled about adding my name to the black owned businesses list and appreciate the list because I can make it my business to plan more opportunities of support. In lieu of a big 20 year celebration I placed a 24x36 open letter of thanks in my storefront window. I included a photo of me.

Paula Sullivan

Owner & Founder

Carmens de la Calle San Antonio, TX

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Centro San Antonio

We are a placemaking organization whose purpose is to create a more beautiful, playful, welcoming, and prosperous Downtown.