How businesses selling lipstick and empanadas found success during the pandemic 

Professional headshots of two women.
Tameka Jones (left) is the founder of Lip Esteem and Belén Rodríguez is the founder of Quebracho Empanadas.
Courtesy Images

When COVID-19 hit Minnesota in March of 2020, Tameka Jones' work as a cosmetic and make-up artist disappeared overnight. So, Jones did what millions of people did during the last two years. She started her own business.

Her brand Lip Esteem, sells 40 shades of lipstick, liner and gloss along with a message of inclusiveness. After success online and at farmers markets she opened a St. Paul storefront in April. 

The last two years were brutal for many small businesses. But it’s also been a time of record business start ups. The pandemic forced people out of jobs and caused many more to reflect on what they wanted to do with their life and work.

A whopping 4.4 million people in the United States, including Jones, took a risk to chase a dream in 2020, setting a record for new business applications. The number was surpassed in 2021 with 5.4 million new business applications.

It’s too soon to say how many of these young startups will succeed, but the surge in entrepreneurship is already yielding successes. Among them is Quebracho Empanadas, started by Belén Rodríguez, who lost her job as a hospital translator at the start of the pandemic. Rodríguez turned her catering side hustle into a frozen food business. Her empanadas, inspired by family meals in Argentina, are now sold in 130 stores.

MPR News host Angela Davis talks with Jones and Rodríguez about the ups and downs of starting a business during the pandemic.  

Plus, MPR News senior economics contributor Chris Farrell talks about a recent episode of his podcast small change: Money Stories from the Neighborhood featuring Arielle Grant, founder of a collaborative workspace for women of color called Render Free.  

Guests: 

  • Tameka Jones is founder of the cosmetic company Lip Esteem, which opened a storefront in April in St. Paul. 

  • Belén Rodríguez is founder of Quebracho Empanadas, which sells frozen empanadas in more than 130 stores in seven states. 

  • Chris Farrell is MPR News senior economics contributor. 

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