Change is constant & inevitable but it doesn’t always have to be bad. Gentifiers aren’t always strangers to their neighborhood, sometimes they’re from the community and they’re trying to build up the place that’s near and dear to their hearts. From gentification we get Gentified, a development company founded by Barney Santos with the goal to act as a catalyst to stimulate economic growth through entrepreneurial activities.
Their first project is Boulevard Market, a carefully curated Food Hall in downtown Montebello that is committed to serving up good food, good drinks, and good vibes. In the final Hispanic Heritage Month Blog, Startup to Storefront host Diego Torres-Palma speaks with Barney Santos about the opportunities BLVD MRKT presents for the community.
Read a few excerpts from their conversation below and follow both Cat Footwear (@catfootwear) and Startup to Storefront on IG (@startuptostorefront) for the opportunity to win a pair of our Excavator Superlite Boots shoes in your size.
Diego: This marks our final episode celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month so let’s go out with a bang! Today we’re talking to Barney Santos from Gentify. For those who don’t know what does your company do?
Barney: So gentify is an investment firm we invest in people places and programs in Latino communities specifically for creatives to build strong local economies & encourage people to invest back into their communities.
Diego: What was your first thing that got you into real estate or even just
curious about the space?
Barney: Yeah you know interestingly enough, I was never interested in real estate at all whatsoever and so like about about like 18-19 years old and it was funny because I was essentially starting straight out of high school. I’ve always been a hustler like since forever I mean High School I used to sell like chocolate to my classmates . I always laugh at this story because it’s like I would find out when like this the other classes were doing like their fundraisers and selling chocolates and so like I would buy chocolates at like a cheap price and then like flip them for like a way like you know fundraiser price.
But like after after graduating, I just I wanted to see what I can get into, so I was going to work at the YMCA which pays minimum wage at the time, but then my boy Jared said he was working in real estate in the mortgage side. He saw me and my candor at the time when I was really young.
He was like “Here’s my last check, I can you can get paid this much and you can make this much per hour”
I knew at that point I wanted checks like that. It was kind of like my start on how I got into mortgage. I joked that it was just like the Wolf of Wall Street story where he quits his job and goes to work for the main character. He showed me the proof and then he had me on the phones like the next day cranking calls out.
Within like two weeks, like I got my first deal closed and it was like a refinance and ever since then I was in. I had my own mortgage thing and then fast forward got into foreclosure management for assets for the banks on the on the East Coast. I then eventually got into the real estate development side. It’s been always a byproduct of what’s the need and then how do I learn.
How Did BLVD MRKT come about?
Barney: My wife and I moved to Montebello because downtown was just getting too expensive. So we came to Montebello and I noticed at that time there’s nothing much to do, maybe like a handful of things that were just like traditional businesses, legacy businesses that have been there forever and so you know in in their core downtown Corridor.
Our Latino communities don’t have this kind of like economically developed place that we can label as a downtown, and so I noticed there’s a lot of cities like that with that need.
So I saw this piece of land, there was a building, right in the heart of downtown. It had empty broken windows, graffiti, kind of like a lot of buildings in that section of downtown, so I was like, let’s look into it. Come to find out the city owned it and had been empty for 15 years or so. The city bought it with like redevelopment dollars that they weren’t supposed to use. They were considering putting up for RFP rights with that property. There also was like an acre of land behind it, but they wanted to partner with a larger developer.
They weren’t trying to see someone from a smaller brand come in and take it over. So I started bringing people to the table. I brought the Travis Foundations in to do affordable housing behind us and we do the retail. They penciled it out and we met some other developers, then finally, we eventually landed at a concept and jumped onto the RFP with them.
It wasn’t until after I spoke to hundreds of people in the city that I found out what the real problem was, which was essentially people our age, Millennials, wanting more out of life & retail, shopping, food and the cities that we live in just aren’t supplying. So as a result they were just leaving the Montebello area & moving to West LA, downtown, & Hollywood so all that Talent was gone I was like well let’s let’s definitely build something here and see if we can do something cool that can activate this.
Give people a sense of the program that you have at the location at Boulevard Market?
Barney: So Boulevard Market essentially is an indoor/outdoor Food Hall. We have a 100 year old building that you know we repurposed, gutted, & reinforced it & kept the bones of the structure to make it look gorgeous and old. We then have the outdoor/courtyard which there was a building outside we tore down so we can open wide. We studied architecture from Europe and like how Europeans & Mexico City do food halls and just in general architecture. In total we have eight Concepts at Boulevard Market. We have five outside in shipping containers and then three inside in the building. For offerings we have mostly all food. The only thing that’s not food was coffee right and Alchemy craft which is the bar that my wife and I own but other than that it’s all food.
You always talk about how the Hispanic Community deserves nice stuff too. That’s a thing you say a lot. What do you mean by that?
Barney: There’s a lot stuff that people always have a conversation with me about in relation to like Latino communities concerning what is there and what usually gets opened up in these places. I get it right, like people want to pander to like the lowest common stereotype right, but I think we’re greater than the sum of our stereotypes as a community. A lot of times what happens is you’ll see people open up concepts that have like all kinds of pictures of like Frida Kahlo or you know conscious on the wall and that cool you know and there’s a market for that totally, but I just feel like there is a community that wants nice stuff that you can get only like on the west side or downtown of LA that still feels authentic that still feels like connected to who we are as people. That’s what I mean by “Our community deserves nice stuff”. I’m not saying that there isn’t nice stuff there, it’s just that I think the elevated experience that people want from our community is hard to find and so I think that’s a key.
To see the full interview with Barney and BLVD Santos head over to Startup To Storefront’s Youtube Page here.