SBA celebrates 66 years of powering the American Dream

Acting Admisistrator Chris Pilkerton with Mehdi Zarhloul

Mehdi Zarhloul moved to the United States from Morocco at age 16 with just $30 in his pocket and a passion for hard work and good food. Ever since he got his first job as busboy, he knew that someday he would open a restaurant of his own.

In 2006, he opened a fast-casual restaurant inspired by the flavors of the Mediterranean called Crazy Pita. In 2013, low-interest loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration enabled him to open a second and then a third restaurant. The investment also helped him modernize his restaurants, raise awareness of his brand and create jobs for his community. He’s now envisioning an expansion into franchising that would make Crazy Pita a national chain.

As Acting Administrator of the SBA, I’m constantly inspired by stories like this one. America’s 30 million small businesses truly are the engines of our economy, creating jobs and making our neighborhoods vibrant places to live and work. This week, the SBA celebrates 66 years of helping entrepreneurs like Mr. Zarhloul start, grow and succeed in businesses of their own.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Small Business Act on July 30, 1953, creating the SBA. For the past 66 years, the Agency has linked entrepreneurs to the funding, counseling and mentorship they need to succeed. It has also connected small businesses to opportunities for government contracts, including this year’s record of over $120 billion worth of federal contracts. And of course the Agency is also committed to providing low-interest loans to people affected by declared disasters.

As we mark SBA’s birthday, we celebrate all of the entrepreneurs and small businesses that have gotten SBA assistance – from up-and-comers like Crazy Pita to those that have grown into household names like Chobani and Alex & Ani.

Small businesses are the innovators and job creators of our communities – they employ half our nation’s workforce and create two out of every three net new jobs in the private sector. They are also the glue that holds communities together. They give neighborhoods their character, sponsor the Little League teams and place ads in the high school yearbooks. And in times of trouble or tragedy, it’s often the small businesses that step up to meet the needs of their neighbors. In the words of SBA’s 2019 Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by a Public Official recipient Linda Parks in describing her experience in Thousand Oaks, California, “it was the worst of times, but the best of people.”

When I visited Mehdi Zarhloul’s restaurant a few weeks ago, he told me about a young boy named Josh Stevens who often came to the restaurant with his family. Josh would hold the door for customers and help them carry food just because he wanted to “be kind.” Sadly, Josh passed away, and Mr. Zarhlouol assisted in the development of a foundation to promote random acts of kindness like Josh did, especially among kids. This movement ultimately resulted in a local elementary school being named after Josh Stevens. His memory and legacy will live on in his community forever, in part because of his impact on a small business owner.

As today’s small businesses succeed, I hope they will inspire the entrepreneurs of tomorrow and continue to reflect the agency’s mission and long legacy of powering the American Dream.

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