Photo by Pablo Robles

By Karen Marroquin | May 17, 2021

Tears rolled down José Tomaya’s face. His newly opened business should have been thriving. Instead, he was seeing it crush right in front of his eyes. It was like a bad dream, but it was his reality.

Tomaya owns Avondale’s Champis Bakery, which was only 6 months old when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. For the first couple of months, Tomaya says, business was going pretty well, but things changed dramatically when Arizona shut down.

“Being completely new, the first day of curfew we sold $31,” he says.

That was the start of what would be a long journey in the year of 2020. As more businesses were shutting down, Champis Bakery’s patronage diminished to the point the family was in debt.

“One time we were minus $2.97 in our bank account, and then there was another month that we were minus $238 in our bank account,” Tomaya says.

To keep his business open, he invested part of his 401K into it. His wife, Elvira, also put money toward it.

When Champis Bakery opened, dealerships like Honda and Chevy ordered goodies weekly, bringing in revenue. However, Tomaya says,  “when the pandemic hit, the car dealerships told us, ‘OK, so no more pastries. Sorry, but no more pastries.’”

But things changed when Dan Bieber, the Gateway Chevrolet parts services director, asked Tomaya if the bread could be individually wrapped to follow the safety guidelines. Tomaya happily agreed.

“They (Gateway Chevrolet) tried two dozen for a week and then it went up, it went up, it went up, so that literally is what kept us afloat,” Tomaya says.

Bieber says, “Being a small business owner and really close to us, and also everything was fresh every morning, I gave him a chance, and I think he’s done very well.”

During this time, Tomaya applied for the Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program, but he only received $2,000. Businesses of similar size received $20,000 to $40,000.

Tomaya says he received a small loan because his business had only been open for a short time. But, he says, while he didn’t get a lot of financial help, he did get aid in other ways from the city of Avondale.   

Kenneth Chapa, Avondale’s economic development director, says he appreciates helping Avondale businesses during these times of hardship.

“We really focused on on-demand education services. We started holding these events called the Avondale Business Connections where we would go and open the door to people about all the different federal programs out there, grants and all the other emergency funding items that were passed.”

Wendy Bridges, Avondale’s business development manager, was the person who helped Tomaya become aware of the resources that were readily available to him.

“She gave me the name and number of this foundation called Fuerza Local, which is ‘Local First’ in English. She said, ‘They’re going to be able to help you,’” Tomaya says.

And they did. Elaman Rodriguez, a liaison between Local First, an organization focused on helping small businesses, and companies around the Valley shared what he’s been teaching Tomaya throughout this time.

“What I was teaching specifically is one of my favorite things. It is what you call ‘mission, vision, values and culture.’ What is your vision? Why are you here?” Rodriguez says.

Rodriguez soon became a frequent customer of and mentor to Tomaya. Rodriguez says the minute he walked into Champis Bakery, he felt at home.

“What I tell people is it’s the culture,” Rodriguez says. “When you walk in, how do you feel? You just feel good, you feel comfortable, and you want to buy all kinds of bread and all kinds of pastries there.”

Now that Champis Bakery is getting back on its feet, Toyama explains that he is continuing to work with Local First and Rodriguez to get help with a Payment Protection Program loan application.

From all this, Tomaya says that the biggest thing he has learned is to “believe in God, ask questions and be persistent.”

Champis Bakery

10575 W. Indian School Road, Avondale