The Hispanic Chamber of Columbus would appear to be based in Clintonville, even though not many member businesses are located in the neighborhood.

The Hispanic Chamber of Columbus would appear to be based in Clintonville, even though not many member businesses are located in the neighborhood.

That's the result of simpler times for the nearly decade-old group.

When the members of what had long been an all-volunteer organization decided to rent a post office box, one of them who lived in Clintonville did so at his nearby post office.

Today, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has an executive director, Thomas C. Lianez, who works out of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce office at 150 S. Front St. in the old Lazarus building.

While many might not be aware the Hispanic chamber exists, officials are hoping to change that with the launching of what organizers hope will become an annual event.

The Sabor de Columbus, which translates to the taste or flavor of Columbus, will feature the cuisine of more than a dozen Hispanic and Latin restaurants and catering firms. It will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 20, at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

Sabor de Columbus will be "a fun and exciting evening of food, music and dancing all with Latino flavor and flair," according to the announcement.

Participating vendors include Costelo's Puerto Rican Cuisine, Garcia's Internazionale Restaurant, Nicole's Catering, El Vaquero, Azteca Catering, Baja Sol Cantina, Barrio, Casa Sazón, Cazuelas Grill, La Michoacana, Panaderia Oaxaqueña, Perfect Plate Catering and Starliner Diner.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by calling the chamber at 255-6085 or online at www.columbushcc.com.

Lianez, who has worked in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors, said the purpose of his organization is the same as any chamber of commerce: to promote the businesses of members to one another and the general public.

"It's been fairly small until recently," Lianez said.

When he assumed his post as executive director in September 2008, Lianez said the Hispanic Chamber of Columbus had 21 members.

The 108th member signed on last week.

Pilar Powell, a Spanish-speaking real estate agent with Keller-Williams in New Albany and owner of her own small business, PILAR "In Home Sales," has been a member of the Hispanic chamber for about six years.

"For me it has given me obviously a networking opportunity, but also to be kind of involved in the Hispanic community, because that's important to me," Powell said.

"We have grown leaps and bounds to the point where we have our own executive director, which is amazing," she added. "It's just kind of a sign of the times. Companies know that Latinos have so much buying power and it's just a way for English-speaking businesses to capture that market, by calling the Hispanic chamber."

Not all members are of Hispanic origin, according to Lianez. Some joined to tap into the network for this segment of the local business population.

"We really have everything" in terms of the enterprises represented, he said.

From small food markets to restaurants to construction companies, electrical contractors and high-tech and Web-related firms, businesses of all kinds make up the Hispanic Chamber of Columbus.

And, Lianez noted, many Hispanic business owners in central Ohio are hardly new to this country -- they've been around for decades and in many cases all of their lives.

"A lot of people just never really noticed," he said. "Ohio has had a very strong Latino population for generations."

This was especially true in the Cleveland, Toledo, Dayton and Cincinnati areas in the past, but Lianez, who was born in Van Wert and now lives in Zanesville, said the population growth in central Ohio that brought many non-Hispanic entrepreneurs to the region also caused the Latino population to grow.

More continue to arrive, even in a recession, he said.

"We're looking at a growing population of Hispanic entrepreneurs who are taking on the challenge of growing a small business in this economy, and really doing very well," he said.

The Hispanic chamber works closely with not only the Columbus chamber but other chambers of commerce in central Ohio, Lianez said. He works closely with the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs, which picks up part of his salary through Project Open, an initiative that seeks to create a Spanish-language business development center to enable Hispanics to get on federal, state, city and corporate vendor lists.

"We really feel very strongly that being associated with and forming partnerships with other ethnic communities and governments and chambers is going to be of benefit not just to our members but to the community," Lianez said.

kparks@thisweeknews.com