Some Like it Hot: CaJohn’s Heats up with FCAP Financing

Kimberly Scher, EVP Communications and Development

Kimberly Scher, EVP Communications and Development

_DSC9877With tears streaming down our faces, we coughed and sputtered our way to the door of the commercial kitchen. CaJohn’s Fiery Foods was in full swing, mixing up a new hot sauce recipe using some of the hottest chili peppers in the world.  Just the smell of the freshly ground chili peppers was enough to send Amber Seitz, Finance Fund Senior Manager of Communications and Marketing, and me running for fresh air during our recent site visit. 

John “CaJohn” Hard, however, just smiled and inhaled deeply of the fiery blend of fresh ingredients and spices that has made him the “godfather of hot sauce.”  Another award-winning tongue burner was on the brew and would soon join his inventory of 200 specialty food products.

With names like Vicious Viper, Krakatoa, Liquid Stoopid, Fatalii, and Lethal Ingestion, these and other tasty scorchers have earned CaJohn’s Fiery Foods a place in the “Hot Sauce Hall of Fame.” In all, the company has won more than 600 major awards. Products are sold through retail outlets and online.

Finance Fund Capital Corporation’s (FCAP) $250,000 small business financing provided CaJohn’s with the working capital and infrastructure needed to keep growing their Westerville, OH operation. CaJohn’s employs 13 staff with plans to add 6 new hires over the next two years.

_DSC0079CaJohn has always had a taste for hot, spicy foods and enjoyed creating his own sauces, salsas and seasonings for family and friends. After winning several major national hot sauce awards and seeing increased demand for his fresh and fiery products, John and his wife Sue opened CaJohn’s Fiery Foods in 1997.

Whether Cajun, Southwestern, Asian or Caribbean cuisine, there’s a CaJohn’s hot sauce, BBQ sauce, rub, spice blend or salsa available to add original flavor or fierce fire to recipes. CaJohn’s Sancto Scorpio hot sauce, for example, is made from the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper, the hottest chili pepper on the planet scoring 1.2 million Scoville Heat Units. To ensure highest quality, product is prepared in small batches using all natural fresh peppers and select fruit, grown in Ohio whenever possible.

We invite you to learn more about small business projects financed through FCAP by visiting our website.

Broken Connections Shelter Makes Life Complete


AmberRecently, I visited Broken Connections (BCI) in East Cleveland, which received an $86,374 economic development grant from Finance Fund to help provide emergency housing, food, clothing, education and supportive services for 75 runaway and homeless youth between the ages of 10 to 21.

This community-based nonprofit organization operates in a neighborhood that has a 40 percent poverty rate and 37 percent unemployment rate – where 38 percent of the city’s youth drop out of high school before 12th grade. Because of the city’s high poverty rate and lack of opportunity, many youth are trapped in a cycle of crime, teen pregnancy, gang involvement, drug trafficking and illiteracy.

However, BCI Executive Director Nicole Howell and her team are working to change that.


BCI offers a comprehensive list of services ranging from after-school tutoring and healthy, balanced meals to job training and money management. Many BCI kids had no role model or positive influences in their life but now can grow up to be successful adults because of the life lessons instilled in them at Broken Connections.

The work BCI does is not easy. But it is so important.

Walking into this house, I was immediately surrounded by an atmosphere of love and generosity. Nicole buzzes around the house taking care of paperwork, phone calls, preparing after-school meals and snacks, talking with children one-on-one about their day or about the importance of doing well in school. And she treats it all as a day’s work. The compassion that she has for these children and teens is incredible and will have a lasting impact on them for a lifetime.


Broken Connections operates on grant funding, donations, and when necessary Nicole makes ends meet with her own savings. If you would like to learn more, please visit


Historic Downtown Cleveland Landmark Comes to Life

Andrew Swary, Finance Fund EVP, General Counsel

Andrew Swary, Finance Fund EVP, General Counsel

It was a great day for downtown Cleveland residents who have a taste for fresh food served up in a magnificent jewel-box of a full-service grocery store.

Heinen’s Fine Foods opened at the corner of Euclid and Ninth Avenues in the historic Ameritrust building last week before a packed crowd of local business people, public officials, foodies, neighborhood residents and media. 

Finance Fund was there as the provider of $7 million in New Markets Tax Credit financing that helped fund redevelopment of the “Rotunda” and the adjacent 1010 building – two of the three buildings in the massive complex developed by Geis Properties LLC. The project includes residential, retail, office and grocery store space.

“Downtown is a neighborhood of 13,000 residents,” said Ward 3 Councilman Joe Cimperman, a speaker at the event. “Thanks to Tom and Jeff Heinen, your investment will help us achieve our goal of raising the number of residents in downtown Cleveland.” The store is seen as an economic driver and retail anchor that will encourage more people to live downtown and help the city realize its near-term goal of 25,000 downtown residents.  City officials also see it as a tourist destination.Fresh Veg

Parking is limited, but the store was built primarily for people who live and work in the downtown area. The store provides much-needed access to fresh foods in an economically distressed and underserved community with a poverty rate of 36.4% and unemployment at 2.25 times the national rate.

Noting the diversity of the grand opening crowd, Cimperman said, “Look around this room. This is who we are – African-American, Latino, Jewish, Catholic.” The store will employ about 80 people. It is Heinen’s 18th store in Ohio but the first to open in an urban downtown area. The customer base includes the adjacent new 9 Hotel and Cuyahoga County Headquarters with hundreds of workers. On the other side, the 1010 building offers a mix of affordable and market-rate apartments.


The building is an architectural masterpiece originally designed by George Browne Post who also was the architect of the New York Stock RotundaExchange. Murals depicting settlers and agrarian scenes in the Midwest are framed by elaborate arches that point to a magnificent stained glass rotunda. Surrounding the central atrium are shelves and displays packed with prepared foods, meats, deli items, seafood and a “global grille.”  At lunchtime, there were long lines at the self-serve soup and salad bar, sushi and poke bar, coffee bar, prepared foods and carving stations. Fresh produce and dairy displays fill the more traditional market space in the attached building.

Wilmington Stars in State of the State Address

Reviewing plans for the new Center.

Reviewing plans for the new Center.

Director of Public Affairs Andy Hardy

Director of Public Affairs Andy Hardy

In his State of the State address, Governor Kasich pointed to Wilmington as a shining example of a community that is making significant strides toward economic recovery after suffering devastating job loss. The county’s unemployment rate rose to 14.4 percent in 2009 after DHL US Express closed its distribution hub. With recent expansions, the County now boasts an unemployment rate of 5.8 percent. Finance Fund is honored to have participated in Wilmington’s recovery.

I joined Ohio Department of Health Director Rick Hodges as he toured the construction site of the new Wilmington College Sports Science Center at Wilmington College. Finance Fund provided $10 million in New Markets Tax Credit financing to help expand the facility and education program. It will bring approximately 37 permanent jobs and has already brought about 40 construction jobs to the area.  

In addition to job creation, the Center will be home to the College’s athletic training and sport management programs. Expanded medical services and educational facilities will provide the Clinton County area with clinical care, imaging services and physical therapy all within a single complex. Plans call for a nationally prominent orthopedic practice, outpatient physical therapy clinics and regional health care. Project partners include Beacon Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, Drayer Physical Therapy and Clinton Memorial Hospital which all will have satellite locations at the Sports Science Center.

Csstour1Director Hodges said there could be partnership opportunities for the Ohio Department of Health and the College as the Sports Science Center goes online and evolves as a major educational and health care facility. It was a great privilege to join Director Hodges and his staff on their visit to the center and to hear of possible future opportunities.

As a table host at the Wilmington-Clinton County Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Finance Fund shared in discussions with General Assembly members and the Governor’s staff. The tour and the luncheon were both great events that included updates and exchanges on how Clinton County and Wilmington have achieved such remarkable success in economic recovery.

Health, Business and Economic Leaders Convene on Healthy Food Access

Finance Fund EVP Mark Barbash

Finance Fund EVP Mark Barbash

An overflow crowd of more than 175 Central Ohio citizens joined Finance Fund for a lively panel discussion on “Turning Food Deserts into Oases” at the Columbus Metropolitan Club luncheon on February 25.

I had the honor of moderating this panel discussion, which highlighted many different activities that are being developed around healthy food access and local food systems around Central Ohio, the state and nation, along with the importance of increasing access to capital for projects.  The CMC conversation came on the heels of the release of policy recommendations to state legislators in a report prepared by The Food Trust on behalf of the Ohio Healthy Food Financing Task Force.

The recommendations report “Supporting Grocery Development in Ohio” identified the need to establish a healthy food retail financing program in Ohio.

PanelistsPresentations by my fellow panelists highlighted some of the key issues:

  • Caroline Harries, Associate Director at The Food Trust in Philadelphia, talked about their work with the Task Force to map the state for healthy food access gaps and identify major policy and programmatic issues in Ohio. She also discussed the effectiveness of the healthy food financing program in Pennsylvania, and how this model could be applied in Ohio to improve health outcomes and promote economic development.
  • Dr. Mykeisha Williams Roberts, Deputy Health Commissioner in Columbus, talked about their work to identify health issues in the city’s neighborhoods, and specifically those that were occurring because of the lack of access to healthy foods, which contributes to diet related diseases.
  • Michelle Moskowitz Brown, Executive Director at Local Matters, discussed the important role that education plays in changing buying, cooking and food purchasing habits. She noted that Local Matters’ earliest strategy was a year-round hands on curriculum called Food Matters, which was aimed at kids, who are part of the decision making process in their households. When they learn how to grow and cook food from around the world, as they do in their classroom, their consumption increases and their choices influence the household.

In the Q & A that followed the presentations, many people supported the idea that fresh food retail is an important component of neighborhood revitalization in urban areas. Others raised important questions about the linking of urban and rural areas through local food system programs, helping farmers to produce for local consumers (rather than large commodity distributors), and other ways of improving community health.

Ohio Prioritizes Healthy Food Access


ReportCoverToday at the Statehouse, the Ohio Healthy Food Financing Task Force called upon Ohio’s local and state government leaders to create a culture of support for healthy food retail development in underserved communities. At the news event, the Task Force released a new policy statement Supporting Grocery Development in Ohio” including analysis and success stories.

One of the recommendations calls for state seed funding to establish an Ohio Healthy Food Financing Fund (HFFF) that would provide healthy food retailers with access to flexible financing needed to overcome the barriers associated with locating in underserved communities. This one-time funding would enable vendors to open, renovate, or expand retail outlets that sell fresh fruits and vegetables. The Fund will provide underserved Ohio communities with better access to fresh foods, quality employment opportunities, and opportunities for revitalization.

Despite Ohio’s internationally recognized agricultural and food processing activity, the state is home to many communities with too few places to purchase healthy, affordable food. This food access crisis has put over 2 million residents, including more than 500,000 children, at risk for chronic disease and diet-related death. ProduceBasketFull

Eligible healthy food projects will be located in all types of communities (urban, rural, small, and large) that are underserved in terms of food access. To qualify as eligible, projects must commit to providing fresh fruits and vegetables and serving primarily low-to-moderate income communities.

Finance Fund convened the Task Force last year. It includes 50 leaders from the health, business, civic, government, grocery, philanthropic and other nonprofit sectors, who worked for a year alongside national food advocacy expert The Food Trust to identify policy recommendations to support healthy food retail development and expansion in areas in greatest need. The 2014 report, “Food for Every Child: The Need for Healthy Food Financing in Ohio” identified urban and rural areas across Ohio where healthy food retail development is needed most.

I invite you to contact me to discuss this initiative in greater detail or find out more about investing in HFFF or developing a healthy food project at

Citi Leadership Program for Opportunity Finance

Tara Campbell, VP Lending

Tara Campbell, VP Lending

In January, I joined fellow industry leaders at the first meeting of the Citi Leadership Program for Opportunity Finance. The session was filled with great insights on what other leaders are doing to impact their organizations as well as the communities their organizations serve.

The curriculum, developed by Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, offers a combination of leadership development experiences built around four key elements:

  • Transformational leadership frameworks and tools
  • Applying transformational leadership to the opportunity finance industry
  • Understanding leadership and management
  • Building effective teams to lead transformational change

The first session focused on why community development financial institutions, known as CDFIs, exist and our role as leaders within our organizations. OFN President and CEO Mark Pinsky shared a few key takeaways:

  • CDFIs make it our business to do something impossible every day.
  • We must take risks, innovate, expand our reach – good intentions are not enough.
  • CDFIs unite financial equity with social, economic, and political equity – with equity we align capital with justice – because equity.
  • Leadership is about creating transformational change – both systematic and structural.

Another great speaker sharing key insights was Enterprise Community Loan Fund President Lori Chatman. She emphasized “great leadership exists in the intersection of three things: environment, self and team.” This set the tone for one of the themes for the day transformational change happens in stages – individual, organizational, industry/movement.

I look forward to the opportunity to learn from fellow Citi leaders in this program and share this knowledge with others.

Vacant Commercial Properties Bring Potential for Community Revitalization

Mark Barbash, EVP Strategic Initiatives

Mark Barbash, EVP Strategic Initiatives

One of the biggest challenges in Ohio community development is finding ways to revitalize aging commercial strips in neighborhoods and small communities. Realizing the potential of vacant properties and at the same time assisting local residents in starting small businesses was the focus of a recent Greater Ohio Policy Center workshop hosted by Finance Fund and co-sponsored by the Ohio CDC Association.  

The workshop attracted representatives from cities, counties, CDCs, port authorities, banks, foundations and real estate development from throughout Ohio to brainstorm ways to link the entrepreneurial efforts of local residents with renovating vacant commercial properties. Successful outcomes could improve neighborhood commercial areas, raise property values, create jobs, generate tax revenue and revitalize neighborhoods.

Workshop participants heard presentations from two groups that are piloting programs. Mihalo (Mike) Temali from the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) in Minneapolis described their program that provides intensive assistance to small businesses – many involving Somali immigrants – and also develops small business incubators and markets in core neighborhood areas. Kimberly Faison from ProsperUS Detroit described their efforts to replicate the NDC program in several neighborhoods, but with a focus on commercial strip revitalization.

Following the presentations, participants brainstormed the current work in neighborhood commercial revitalization, the expanding activities of the county Land Banks, and the work of groups like ECDI to provide intensive assistance to small business entrepreneurs.

It was stimulating to hear about the challenges of Ohio groups in these areas, and to discover that there is much common ground. Here are several key “take-aways” for further discussion: 

  • First, while there are a number of groups working in this area around the state, there is a need for greater coordination.
  • Second, redeveloping neighborhood real estate has to be done in a sustainable way, so that the vacancies don’t come back again.
  • And third, there are opportunities for many groups to participate, including local banks, foundations and CDCs.

As a follow-up, Greater Ohio will be convening a working group to explore opportunities in Ohio for similar efforts. Finance Fund will be part of the working group and will report back periodically. If you have questions or would like further information, please get in touch with me




Ohio Healthy Food Effort Makes News

Kimberly Scher, EVP Communications and Development

Kimberly Scher, EVP Communications and Development

State and local officials, nonprofit development groups and grocers have made increased access to healthy affordable food an Ohio priority in 2015. The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently ran a story that highlights Ohio’s efforts.  The paper’s Washington Bureau Chief Stephen Koff writes, “A study by the Columbus-based Finance Fund, and Philadelphia-based partner, The Food Trust, found that more than 2 million Ohio residents, including 500,000 children, live in neighborhoods underserved by supermarkets.  They may have access to food at corner stores, but it is unlikely to be fresh or healthy.”

In Ohio, the Healthy Food Financing (HFF) Task Force of state agencies, foundations, grocers, corporations and nonprofit health and food access organizations reviewed the Food Study findings and identified barriers preventing healthy food retailers from locating in low-income communities. The HFF Task Force is now finalizing policy recommendations to help address those barriers.

One of the recommendations is to build a flexible business financing program that leverages additional capital to stimulate the development, renovation and expansion of healthy food retailers — ranging from fresh food carts, food hubs, community stores and grocery store chains to corner stores, co-ops, wholesale grocers, community kitchens, and farmer’s markets — in areas where they are needed most. 

As the article notes: “Part of the problem is age and density: Cities, though full of potential customers, are old and lack clean, green space.  A potential deal can take years to develop.  In a report this year, the Finance Fund and The Food Trust identified challenges including high development costs, land assembly, regulatory requirements, workforce turnover and training issues, security concerns and customer transportation.”

In an interview for the Plain Dealer story, Nate Filler, president of the Ohio Grocers Association and a member of the HFF Task Force, said, “The grocery industry operates on a one-and-a-half-percent margin.” Incremental costs, whether for insurance, lighting or extra staff training, eat into that. “We want to be able to be around for the area long after the ribbon cutting. We want to be sustainable for the community.”

Caroline Harries, associate director of the Food Trust, estimates that Ohio could support about 100 more stores.  The experience of the Food Trust has been invaluable. This national nonprofit is dedicated to increasing access to healthy and affordable foods. It was part of a coalition that attracted about 90 new food operations to Pennsylvania between 2005 and 2010.

Watch for further news on the policy recommendations which will be announced in mid-January.  Your questions and comments are welcome at  

The Arts Matter to Economic Development

Mark Barbash, EVP Strategic Initiatives

Mark Barbash, EVP Strategic Initiatives

Arts and cultural institutions such as theaters, museums and galleries as well as public art installations are an important part of creating livable communities.  They add unique flavor and nuance to each community, enhance civic vitality, and invigorate our lives and public spaces.

Earlier in December, I moderated a panel that focused on financing to sustain Ohio’s arts and cultural ecosystem, held at the Ohio History Connection in Columbus. More than 160 “keepers of culture” from around Ohio attended this first-of-a-kind conference dedicated to finding ways to enhance the state’s quality of life through the arts. 
The panelists included David Alexander, commercial banking relationship manager at US Bank; Jason Rittenberg, director of research and advisory services at Council of Development Finance Agencies, and Hugh Grefe, senior executive director at Local Initiatives Support Corporation. 

Two of the organizations highlighted are Finance Fund partners:

  • Franklinton Development Association (FDA) Executive Director Jim Sweeney described how FDA is
    Franklinton Mural

    Franklinton Mural

    encouraging the link between art, community and innovation through such projects as the Columbus Idea Foundry, the Franklinton Urban Scrawl festival and the development of artists’ life/work spaces.

  • Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc. was represented by Executive Director Tim Tramble, who described their work in Cleveland’s Kinsman neighborhood to support housing and commercial development, along with art- based community building initiatives.

Other highlights of the day-long session included a keynote presentation from Jamie Bennett, executive director of ArtPlace America. This Cleveland native is a recognized leader in community based arts projects that are transformational. Also on the podium was fellow Buckeye Matthew Fluharty, director of Art of the Rural, a nonprofit group in St. Louis that works to support arts projects in rural America and expand the rural arts and humanities network.

Throughout the day, one facet of every conversation was very clear:  as communities seek ways to stand out, progress economically and attract more businesses and residents, many are turning to the arts to transform public venues, reinforce culture and regenerate places to live, work and play.

Contact Us

P: 614.221.1114 | 800.959.2333
A: Finance Fund
175 South Third Street, Suite 1200
Columbus, Ohio 43215

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