Forty Acres Fresh Market currently delivers fresh produce to customers throughout Chicago.
Navigating startup expenses has been eye-opening as well. The endeavor has received support from several groups, including the Christopher Family Foundation, the Lumpkin Family Foundation, the Chicago Recovery Fund and various public and private grants, including an award from the Famous Amos cookie brand. “It’s way too capital intensive and risky for most businesses to take on by themselves,” Abunaw noted. “You raise money, and then find out what you design will cost more than the money you raised, so you need to raise more money. You’re always chasing the start date to match the funding.”
As she manages the budget and continues to bring her concept to life, Abunaw puts her business acumen to work. She actually got the idea for Forty Acres after her time at Microsoft. “I was at an inflection point and thought, ‘If I didn’t have to work, what would I do? And what other time in my life will I have this opportunity to just pursue it and see what happens?'” she recalled.
Being able to provide food for the Austin community, where she lives and where the current mayor of Chicago, Brandon Johnson, lives, has been the guiding principle. “We are very intentional of being located in a Black neighborhood and explicit about the fact that this food equity challenge uniquely impacts the Black community,” Abunaw remarked, pointing out that the need is acute. “If you put in my store location, you could draw a mile radius and not hit another grocery store.”
While she strives to fill the fresh food gap, she has gained more insights on the grocery world. “Some of my suppliers were at the groundbreaking. I have learned so much from those guys – they are old-school grocery producers and know this business like the back of their hand,” reported Abunaw, who works with both established suppliers and local farmers throughout the Midwest.
She’s also adept at keeping many things going at once, working on the store buildout while maintaining the Forty Acres delivery service. “Since 2020, delivery has been the biggest part of our business. We have customers all over the city,” Abunaw said. “When we say, ‘fresh food for all’, that’s what we mean.”
The journey for this grocery entrepreneur will continue through 2024, as the store gets closer to opening and fulfilling what has become a passion project for Abunaw. “It’s not just business. It’s personal. And food is as personal as it gets,” she says of her food justice mission.