By Mary Moore, Boston Business Journal

BOSTON (CBS) – A bank was the first — and most obvious — place Carlene O’Garro went in 2007 when she needed a loan to buy equipment for her cake baking business, called Delectable Desires.

But her business was brand new, her loan needs were small, and although she had OK credit, O’Garro did not have perfect credit — a standard requirement to qualify for a bank loan in a struggling economy.

O’Garro turned to Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream, a microlending program funded by Boston Beer Co. and run by ACCION USA, a Boston-based microfinance organization.

In a week, O’Garro, who declined law school acceptance to pursue a culinary career, had a $2,000 loan, which was enough for her to buy muffin pans, storage bins, flour scoops and ingredients.

“If I didn’t get the money, I don’t know what I would have done. My parents could only help me so much. My friends couldn’t help me,” said O’Garro, 29.

She bakes cakes for retail customers out of her home kitchen in Mattapan and for wholesale customers in a rented commercial kitchen in Jamaica Plain.

In the three years since its launch, Brewing the American Dream — which makes small loans to people in the food, beverage and hospitality sector — has boomed.

The program has loaned a total of nearly $900,000 to about 100 entrepreneurs like O’Garro.

Jim Koch, who founded Boston Beer Co. and its signature brew Sam Adams, started the microloan program in the spirit of his own struggle to find capital when he launched his company.

From the beginning, the loans have been available to entrepreneurs in New England, but with the recent popularity of the program, Boston Beer and ACCION USA have expanded it to New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Chicago.

The average loan is $8,000, and interest rates that range from 8.9 percent to 15.9 percent, said Erika Eurkus, senior director at ACCION USA.

Boston Beer grants the money to nonprofit ACCION USA to fund the program, and ACCION acts as the financial institution, selecting borrowers based both on financial considerations, such as their ability to repay, as well as their character.

The loans generally span 18 months and the default rate is 1.8 percent, Eurkus said.

As Brewing the American Dream has grown, it has expanded in scope.

The program now includes speed coaching events, for example, that mirror speed dating with Boston Beer Company staff and vendors offering advice in 20-minute intervals.

And Boston Beer started a second microloan program specifically for craft brewers and has made four loans to date in New York, New Jersey, San Francisco and Holyoke.

The original Brewing the American Dream program remains its flagship.

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