Local AAPI business owners gather at roundtable, share resources


Chiing Tong, president and CEO of National ACE, speaks at an April 25, 2022 roundtable event in Modesto where Modesto Mayor Sue Zwahlen sits in the background.

Dozens of small business owners gathered in Modesto on Monday for a discussion hosted by the National Asian American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship.

The event, part of National ACE’s small business roundtable series, brought together local Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) business owners, as well as local and state activists. The talk was hosted in partnership with Bay Valley Tech, the Stanislaus Chinese Association, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and the Central Valley Hispanic Chamber. The event, which was hosted at Modesto Centre Plaza, saw over 50 attendees.

May marks AAPI Heritage Month, and Monday’s event set the stage by giving small business owners and community leaders a space to speak about the challenges and triumphs they’ve experienced over the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 hit AAPI businesses especially hard, as anti-Asian American hate spread across the country. Many business owners faced harassment and a decline in sales, and organizations like National ACE, which represents 2.2 million AAPI small business owners across the country, stepped in with grant funding and various campaigns to assist community members and business owners.

According to the 2019 Kaufmann Index of Entrepreneurship, an indicator of new business creation in the United States, roughly 6.2% of small businesses across the country are AAPI-owned.

Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that has become the leading organization gathering data on racially motivated attacks related to the pandemic, counted 10,905 hate incidents against AAPI persons from March 19, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2021.

“We feel your pain during the past two years,” Chiing Tong, the president and CEO of National ACE, told attendees Monday. “We have been dealing with two viruses: one is COVID-19, the other is anti-AAPI hate.”

Tong spoke with attendees about National ACE’s resources and other organizations they can turn to for assistance and support. Small business owners across the county — from a photographer to a pest-control company owner and a couple with a new flooring business — told their stories of resilience during the pandemic, and the ways they had to adjust to their new reality.

Tony Pastran, who runs Powell and Pastran Pest Management, said it’s been stressful getting his two-person business up and running in the past year. They’ve managed to expand to 23 cities so far, he said, and that growth wouldn’t have been possible without the support of local community organizations.

“It has been an amazing ride,” he said.

Trong Vuong, who owns Modesto’s Asian Market on McHenry Avenue, reopened his business in late 2020 after the old store burned down in a fire. “The pandemic didn’t hit us too hard (initially, because) we were building during that time,” Vuong said.

Since then, his business has been hit with stock shortages due to the global supply chain issues, but business has started picking up again. He said he’s grateful for the local community that has supported his business through these past few years.

Modesto Mayor Sue Zwahlen gave her thanks to National ACE on behalf of the City Council, thanking the organization for its efforts to support and educate AAPI business owners across the city and region.

“I am truly in awe of our Modesto small business community,” Zwahlen said. “You all are a critical piece, a central piece, of the economic development of Modesto, because you create jobs, breathe life into our communities and help us generate vital city revenue.”

Zwahlen spoke of the pressures faced by small businesses during the pandemic, from operating restrictions to financial challenges, as well as the added struggles facing AAPI businesses who combated AAPI hate in their communities.

“Let me be clear,” she announced. “There’s no room for hate here in Modesto. None. Modesto is a city for everyone, and your businesses and your families are more than welcome.”

To help fund The Bee’s economic development reporter with Report for America, go to story was produced with financial support from the Stanislaus Community Foundation, along with the GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee maintains full editorial control of this work.

Help us cover your community through The Modesto Bee’s partnership with Report For America, with financial support from the Stanislaus Community Foundation.

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Kristina Karisch is the economic development reporter for The Modesto Bee. She covers economic recovery and development in Stanislaus County and the North San Joaquin Valley. Her position is funded through the financial support from the Stanislaus Community Foundation, along with The GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee maintains full editorial control of her work.

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