In Atlanta, Small Businesses Have Mixed Expectations Of President Trump

Feb 3, 2017
Originally published on February 3, 2017 6:34 pm

At lunch hour, the line stretches out the door at Taqueria del Sol on Atlanta's west side. Inside, the tiny kitchen is a swirl of activity.

"This is my crew," says co-owner and chef Eddie Hernandez. "They're all from Mexico."

The menu is a hybrid of cuisine from his native Monterrey, Mexico, and down-home Southern cooking, like tangy turnip greens seasoned with red chilies and re-fried black-eyed peas.

"The food can get us together," Hernandez says, "and make us think differently about each other."

Hernandez and his partner, Mike Klank, have been running restaurants together since 1987. They've seen presidents come and go.

"I hope President Trump turns out to be better than I expect him to be," Klank says. "I hope that he turns out to be more reasonable and centrist than he is."

Klank says there should be a better system for businesses to sponsor immigrants, not more obstacles. The partners describe themselves as conservative economically, but liberal socially. They're doubtful this administration will bridge those views.

"Every four years we go through the same thing," Hernandez says. "A lot of promises and nothing gets done."

Atlanta is a majority Democratic city in Republican Georgia, and it has long fashioned itself the cosmopolitan business capital of the southeast. It is home to major corporations like Delta and Coca-Cola, but it is also a center for small business. The city ranks second behind New York among cities with the most African-American owned companies.

And since 2000, metro Atlanta's Hispanic population has more than doubled. Latino businesses line the busy Buford Highway — a main artery that stretches from Atlanta to the suburbs.

Eduardo Fernandez is ordering lunch at the food court at Plaza Fiesta, an indoor marketplace that caters to Hispanic shoppers.

"They call it El rinconcito de nuestro pueblo," he says. "A little corner of our little town."

Fernandez is an advertising and marketing consultant, and has an online bilingual rock radio station.

"My show is called 'Que Onda,' " he says. "It's like, 'What's going on with that?' "

Sitting near the kids' carnival area in the mall, Fernandez says he is concerned by some of the executive orders Trump has signed.

"I'm worried about his orders and ideas, and things that he's implementing," Fernandez says. "His attitude."

Fernandez was born in Laredo, Texas, but spent his childhood freely crossing the border to be with family in Mexico. He says Trump is moving recklessly, harming long-standing relations between the two countries.

Fernandez is particularly alarmed by what he perceives as an effort to single out certain groups.

"For me that's evil," he says. "You can have an issue with me. You can have an issue with Mr. Jones. But you cannot have an issue with all white people, or all gays, or all Muslims. That's not Christian."

Fernandez has watched the turmoil over the executive order limiting visitors from seven mostly Muslim countries. He says he doesn't think Trump thought through the implications of making good on his campaign promises at such a frenetic pace.

"I will give him that," Fernandez says. "He's doing what he promised."

Fernandez says he's unsure what the new administration will mean for his business, so for the short term he won't be looking to expand.

But some small businesses are banking on Trump's policies to help them.

Michael Flock is the founder and CEO of Flock Specialty Finance, an eight-person company in the sub-prime, higher-risk lending market. He's optimistic Trump will curtail what he calls onerous regulations imposed during the Obama administration.

"We needed some regulation because in this industry of debt collection there are a bunch of cowboys, and we needed some new rules," Flock says. "But in America, sometimes we go too far."

He says middle market firms like his have been squeezed, so he welcomes Trump's promise to roll back the red tape and cut taxes.

"I wasn't for him initially," Flock says. "I'm a middle-of-the-road Republican."

Flock's high-rise office on the perimeter of Atlanta is lined with portraits of Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican reformer. That's how Flock sees President Trump.

"I think he's a radical reformer," he says. "I think we need major change. And I think it takes somebody outside the government to do that."

Flock says Trump has potential "if he can stay focused." He worries Trump's apparent vanity and penchant for tweeting could prove to be unnecessary distractions.

It's already a distraction for one young entrepreneur.

"I'm pretty much just embarrassed to have him as my president," says Latasha Kinnard, CEO of Start Young Financial Group. "I don't reject him but having him has me be embarrassed."

Kinnard says she used to work in finance for a large corporation, but now has her own business that encourages young black professionals to build wealth.

"I grew up on the south side of Chicago," she says. "Seeing people struggle with money was something that was just built into my life, and I wanted to tackle that."

Kinnard says she often votes Democratic, but she doesn't think either political party serves her interests. Her expectations for the Trump administration are pretty low.

"There is a lot of fear," Kinnard says. "Not just nervousness or anxiety, but just flat out fear that Donald Trump isn't fit to run the country simply because of a lack of empathy for the people who make up this country."

She checks off a litany of worries — health care, immigration, the idea that alternative facts have a place in political discourse.

But Kinnard says she believes Trump's presidency can serve as a wake-up call for people to take their civic duties seriously when they see just what's at stake.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Donald Trump campaign for president on his credentials as a businessman who could bring corner office sensibilities to running the country. NPR's Debbie Elliott wanted to know how small business owners think the new president is doing, so she went to Atlanta and brought back this report.

DEBBIE ELLIOT, BYLINE: At lunch hour, the line stretches out the door at Taqueria del Sol on Atlanta's west side. Inside the tiny kitchen is a swirl of activity.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

EDDIE HERNANDEZ: This is my crew. They're all from Mexico.

ELLIOT: Co-owner Eddie Hernandez is the creator of the menu here - a hybrid of cuisine from his native Monterrey, Mexico and down-home southern cooking, like tangy turnip greens seasoned with red chilies and re-fried black-eyed peas.

HERNANDEZ: The food can get us together and make us think differently about each other.

ELLIOT: Hernandez and his partner Mike Klank have been running restaurants together since 1987. I ask what they expect from the Trump administration.

MIKE KLANK: I hope President Trump turns out to be better than I expect him to be (laughter). I don't know if that's an expectation. That's just hope. I hope he turns out to be more reasonable and centrist than he is because I think Eddie and I are both conservative economically but liberal socially. So we're hoping that maybe we can get some stuff done, but I doubt - I don't expect anything to get done.

HERNANDEZ: Every four years we go through same thing - you know, a lot of promises and nothing gets done.

KLANK: I'm 67 years old. I've been through a lot of presidents. I'm not crazy about some.

HERNANDEZ: (Laughter).

ELLIOT: Klank says there should be a better system for businesses to sponsor immigrants, not more obstacles. In Atlanta, a majority Democratic city in a mostly Republican Georgia, the transition to a Trump administration brings mixed expectations.

Atlanta has long fashioned itself the cosmopolitan business capital of the southeast. It's home to major corporations like Delta and Coca-Cola, but it's also a center for small business. It ranks second behind New York among cities with the most African-American owned companies. And since 2000, metro Atlanta's Hispanic population has more than doubled.

Latino businesses line the busy Buford Highway, a main artery that stretches from Atlanta to the suburbs.

EDUARDO FERNANDEZ: Quiero un cuatro de pollo.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Para aqui o para llevar?

FERNANDEZ: Pollo al horno, para aqui...

ELLIOT: Eduardo Fernandez is ordering lunch at the food court in an indoor marketplace.

FERNANDEZ: We are in Plaza Fiesta. They call it, el riconcito en nuestro pueblo. It's the little corner - we can say that like that - of our little town.

ELLIOT: He's an advertising and marketing consultant and has an online bilingual rock radio station.

FERNANDEZ: My show is on - called "Que Onda." It's like what's going on with that?

ELLIOT: Sitting near the kids carnival area in the mall, Fernandez talks about the new president.

FERNANDEZ: I'm worried about his orders and ideas and things he's implementing, his attitude.

ELLIOT: Fernandez was born in Laredo, Texas, but spent his childhood freely crossing back and forth over the border to be with family in Mexico. He says Trump is moving recklessly, harming longstanding relations between the two countries. Fernandez says he's particularly alarmed by what he perceives as an effort to single out certain groups.

FERNANDEZ: For me, that's evil. You can have an issue with me. You can have an issue with Mr. Jones. But you cannot have an issue with all white people or all gays or all Muslims. That's not Christian.

ELLIOT: Fernandez has watched the turmoil over the executive order limiting visitors from certain mostly Muslim countries. He says he doesn't think President Trump thought through the implications of making good on his campaign promises at such a frenetic pace.

FERNANDEZ: I will give him that. He's (laughter) - he's doing what he promised. He keeps doing one and another and another. It's like, please.

ELLIOT: Fernandez says he's unsure what the new administration will mean for his business. So for the short term, he won't be looking to expand. But some small businesses are banking on Trump's policies to help them. Michael Flock is the founder and CEO of Flock Specialty Finance. In the sub-prime, higher-risk lending market, he's optimistic about Trump's presidency.

MICHAEL FLOCK: I wasn't for him initially. I'm a middle-of-the-road Republican.

ELLIOT: Flock says he voted for Trump after feeling the impact of, what he calls, onerous regulations during the Obama administration.

FLOCK: We needed some regulation because in this industry of debt collection, there are a bunch of cowboys, and we needed some new rules. But, in America, sometimes we go too far.

ELLIOT: He says middle-market firms like his have been squeezed, so he welcomes Trump's promise to roll back the red tape and cut taxes. Flock's high-rise office on the perimeter of Atlanta is lined with portraits of Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican reformer. That's how he sees President Trump.

FLOCK: I think, you know, he's a radical reformer. I think we need major change, and I think it takes somebody outside the government to do that. So I think he may be the right guy at the right time if he can stay focused.

ELLIOT: He says Trump's apparent vanity and his penchant for frequent tweeting could prove to be unnecessary distractions. It's already a distraction for young entrepreneur Latasha Kinnard.

LATASHA KINNARD: I'm pretty much just embarrassed to have him as my president.

ELLIOT: Kinnard is the CEO of Start Young Financial Group.

KINNARD: I don't reject him but having him has me be embarrassed.

ELLIOT: From a trendy bakery in downtown Atlanta, Kinnard says she used to work in finance for a large corporation but now has her own business that encourages young black professionals to build wealth. She says she votes Democratic but doesn't think either political party serves her interests. Her expectations for the president are pretty low.

KINNARD: There is a lot of fear, like, not just nervousness or anxiety, but just flat out here that Donald Trump isn't fit to run the country simply because of a lack of empathy for the people who make up this country.

ELLIOT: She checks off a litany of worries - health care, immigration, the idea that alternative facts have a place in political discourse. But Kinnard says she believes Trump's presidency can serve as a wake-up call for people to take their civic duty seriously when they see just what's at stake. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.