After falling in love with Montana while on vacation, Fei and Jian Zhang made the move from China and opened the Sweet Chili Asian Bistro in 2010. The Zhangs designed Sweet Chili as an Asian fusion restaurant, where they pay tribute to their travels across Asia with a menu built around their favorite flavors from the diverse cultures they experienced. The love of place translates through the restaurant that has now become a staple in downtown Bozeman, Montana.
When the COVID-19 pandemic required the restaurant to temporarily shutter its doors, Fei received an email about Prospera and the city’s COVID relief efforts for local businesses. “When we heard about the microloans and grants for utility and rent expenses, that's really when Fei decided to reach out to Prospera Business Network and take advantage of more of the opportunities they offer,” said office manager Anja Wookey-Huffman.
Initially, Sweet Chili received a microloan from Prospera as well as funding from a partnership between the City of Bozeman and Prospera for the City of Bozeman COVID Recovery Grant. This funding was specifically for utilities and rent, which took care of those expenses in such a way that other business income could be used to pay wages to encourage employees to stay with the restaurant when business was slower than usual.
Discussing the city’s COVID grant, Brit Fontenot, Bozeman’s Director of Economic Development, said, “During the height of the shutdown, when businesses were struggling to keep up, keep employees, and keep their doors open, the City of Bozeman and Prospera partnered to distribute, in the form of grants and low-interest loans, over $650,000 in COVID relief funds. Without a doubt, this rapid response to meeting some of the needs of local businesses saved these businesses and the jobs they create from disappearing forever.”
“Organizations like Prospera help you see things that you might not have seen on your own that would make it more of a successful business. With Prospera's help, we were able to think about different considerations for the business, and we gained exposure to a lot more of a support network,” said Wookey-Huffman.