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Tuesday, Jun 18, 2024

San Diego Tourism Authority Moves Forward with Accelerator Cohort

TOURSM: Ten Local Businesses Receiving a Year of Mentorship

Cake, cobbler and pudding in a jar? Yes, please!

Hey Sugar, the Southern comfort dessert shop in downtown San Diego featuring German chocolate cake, Red velvet cake, peach cobbler, banana pudding and cheesecake – all snugly fit in Mason jars – is getting ready to grow with the San Diego Tourism Authority behind it.

Hey Sugar was founded last year by Chantanaya Buie, a Los Angeles native who was among 10 startup businesses that are now a part of the SDTA’s 2023-24 Tourism Accelerator cohort.

The SDTA initiative, one of the first of its kind in the country, is designed to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the local tourism industry. It provides free membership, mentoring, education and networking opportunities to businesses owned by people of color, women, veterans and those who identify as LGBTQ+.

Business categories needed to be related to tourism or hospitality in some aspect and included, but were not limited to, restaurants, retail, activities and attractions, museums, transportation, and meeting and event services. The group chosen reflects the diversity of the region and the industry, SDTA officials say, embracing a wide range of business types with owners from a variety of backgrounds.

SDTA President and CEO Julie Coker said that by increasing the number of diverse businesses within SDTA membership, visitors will have more choices when they visit San Diego, boosting equity across the region.

Julie Coker
President and CEO
San Diego Tourism Authority

“Diversity, equity and inclusion is vital to the long-term sustainability of the tourism industry,” Coker said. “Inclusive travel benefits the visitor, bolsters the economy, and delivers a strong return on investment. It’s the right thing to do – for people and for business.”

Buie, a Black Navy veteran, has been making food for friends since her high school days in Los Angeles and was renowned by her sailor colleagues for never forgetting to bake cakes for their birthdays.

The shop recently left its digs in a suite on Park Plaza but by April the sweet treats will be in a new spot at Fourth Avenue and G Street. Hey Sugar also has a commercial kitchen in Barrio Logan where goods are sold as well as an online presence.

‘A Baker Not a Businessperson’

But Buie says, “I’m a baker, not a businessperson,” and said that what the initiative offers is exactly what she needs.

“I’m a first-time business owner with no clue,” Buie said. “I’m self-taught. I remember seeing a video about the Accelerator last year and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, if I could only be a part of that!’ If I can have access to information, I can do so much with that.”

Buie has contracted with several restaurants around town as well as the Omni Hotel and Hyatt Grand Manchester, but says she has a lot to learn, and is counting on the SDTA’s program to take her business further.

  • Accelerator participants receive a suite of services valued at over $14,000, which includes:
  • Free Membership in SDTA and free admission to select SDTA events and special access to SDTA senior staff, board members and program investors;
  • Business services and coaching from the top providers in San Diego in the fields of finance, risk management, commercial real estate, operations and marketing;
  • A $500 voucher for a course through UC San Diego Extension;
  • Free advertising in brochure racks at over 450 locations in San Diego from Certified Folder;
  • A $1,000 credit to use on SDTA’s digital advertising platforms;
  • And a free quarter-page ad in the San Diego Business Journal for those businesses that are not already advertisers.

In addition to Hey Sugar, the cohorts include:

  • Négociant Winery, owned by JohnRinaldi; Sip Wine & Beer, owned by CassandraSchaeg; Ocean Connectors Educates, owned by JanairaQuigley; Kebab Craft, owned by ShannonSalhany; Valdes Language Services, owned by LauraValdes, JA Cooley Museum/Frank the Trainman JA, owned CarmenCooley Graham; Selfie Station Events, owned by LucyYates; FeMAVEN LLC, owned by JazminCornejo; and Ortega’s, A Mexican Bistro, owned by JohnHaugland.
  • San Diego Gas & Electric and The Shipyard are the financial sponsors for this year’s cohort.
  • Rick Milenthal, CEO of The Shipyard, said his company last year led a session for the cohort on how to build their social media presence.

“From that involvement, we knew we wanted to play a bigger role moving forward,” he said. “Supporting and uplifting underrepresented communities is critical to our collective success in San Diego. Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is a cornerstone of our values at The Shipyard, and we’re excited to learn from and support this cohort in their endeavors.”

Buie said when she first started Hey Sugar, she didn’t know many of the basics about permits, licenses and other necessary parts of business and had to get up to speed fast. She said she would be passing along the knowledge she gleans from the program to other entrepreneurs.

“I can share it with other business owners and pay it forward,” she said. “If each person is able to share what they learn, we can continue a chain and help so many other people. Me growing up south central L.A., I didn’t know any business owners. I had to learn. I want to be able to help other people now.”

San Diego Tourism Authority

BUSINESS: Nonprofit mutual benefit corporation with nearly 1,000 members promoting San Diego
BUDGET: $27M (generated through public sources [San Diego Tourism Marketing District] and grants as well as membership dues and other sources of income, such as events)
WEBSITE: sandiego.org
CONTACT: 619-232-3101
SOCIAL IMPACT: San Diego Tourism Authority’s Tourism Accelerator program seeks to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the tourism industry.
NOTABLE: SDTA’s mission is to drive visitor demand to economically benefit the San Diego region with a vision of leading San Diego to become the most desirable destination.


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