How businesses selling lipstick and empanadas fared during the pandemic

When COVID-19 hit Minnesota in March 2020, Tameka Jones’ work as a cosmetic and makeup artist disappeared overnight. So Jones did what millions of people have done over the past two years. She started her own business.

Her brand Lip Esteem sells 12 shades of lipstick with a message of inclusivity. Following success online and at farmers’ markets, she opened a storefront in St. Paul in April.

The past two years have been brutal for many small businesses. But it was also a time of record business start-ups. The pandemic has forced people out of their jobs and made many others think about what they want to do with their lives and jobs.

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

It’s too early to tell how many of these young startups will succeed, but the rise of entrepreneurship is already showing success. Among them is Quebracho Empanadas, started by Belén Rodríguez, who lost her job as a hospital translator at the start of the pandemic. Rodríguez transformed his catering business into a frozen food business. His empanadas, inspired by family meals in Argentina, are now sold in 130 stores.

At 9 a.m. Monday, MPR News host Angela Davis speaks with Jones and Rodríguez about the highs and lows of starting a business during the pandemic.

Additionally, MPR News Senior Economics Contributor Chris Farrell talks about a recent episode of his podcast Small Change: Neighborhood Money Stories featuring Arielle Grant, founder of a co-working space for women in color called Render Free.


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

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

  • Chris Farrell is MPR News’ top economics contributor.

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