NWA restaurant owner launches nonprofit to fight food insecurity

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 510 views 

Entrepreneur Juan Bahena of Fayetteville recently established a nonprofit to mitigate food insecurity in the Hispanic community.

Bahena is the founder and director of the Fayetteville nonprofit Casa Dos Alas. He’s also the founder and owner of Mexican restaurant Tula in Fayetteville and the Bentonville taco truck Taqueria Lucha.

“We’re taught that you’re supposed to have breakfast, lunch and dinner as a meal throughout the day,” he said. “And I realized that’s sometimes not the case for a lot of people and especially in the Hispanic community.”

Bahena grew up in Chicago, and his family struggled with food insecurity when he was a child. At the time, he thought only his family was struggling, but after working in the hospitality industry, he learned the issue was more widespread and remains a challenge.

This led him and his wife to look at ways to address food insecurity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Arkansas has the highest rate of food insecurity in the United States at 16.6%.

In 2007, Bahena moved to Northwest Arkansas to attend the University of Arkansas, met the woman who’s now his wife and remained there. He still visits his family in Chicago but considers Northwest Arkansas home.

Juan Bahena

In April, Bahena launched Casa Dos Alas with seven staff. The nonprofit is partnering with Northwest Arkansas Food Bank to provide food that aligns with what the Hispanic community would normally use to prepare Mexican food dishes. Casa Dos Alas plans to host pop-up markets in Hispanic neighborhoods, with the first to take place in August at an east Springdale neighborhood. He said in Central and South America, residents often grocery shop at traveling markets.

“We wanted to do something very similar where it reminds them of home,” he said. “The best way to help the community is going to them instead of them coming to you.”

Casa Dos Alas will host a fundraiser on June 15 at Ledger in Bentonville. The fundraiser, Noche en Jalisco, will offer a cultural experience featuring tequila tastings and Mexican food catered by Tula. Tickets are available online at nocheenjalisco.com.

Asked about longer-term goals, Bahena said he wants to create a sustainable process to help Hispanic residents with not only food insecurity. He added that providing food to those in need might also lead to addressing other needs.