La Cocina, A Delicious Economic Renewal | Civil Eats

La Cocina, A Delicious Economic Renewal

The ingredients for green collar economic renewal via food-based businesses have been stewing for a few years in the Mission at La Cocina. Entering its fifth year of operation in 2009, La Cocina was founded to provide kitchen space and assistance to food entrepreneurs – many of them low-income and all of them women – helping them in starting new businesses or grow their home-based businesses into stable ventures.

Speaking with Caleb Zigas – the Director of Operations – the clarity and focus of the La Cocina mission is evidently an asset. “We are supporting the entrepreneurs to the point where they can graduate into owning their independent operations – so it’s pretty clear how we define success,” says Caleb. The services they provide are varied, from monthly meetings to set goals for each entrepreneur to introduction to new products (Niman Ranch recently presented to the group). The day I visited, Culinary Director Jason Rose had spent the morning making Huaraches with one of the organization’s soon-to-graduate entrepreneurs, Veronica Salazar, and was busy scheduling the center’s four commercial kitchen spaces – which are used by La Cocina entrepreneurs as well as rented by local caterers and chefs who are not part of the program.

In a video hosted on the homepage of La Cocina featuring the story of Brazilian cookie star and owner of Kika’s Treats Cristina Besher, she explains “I like calling La Cocina ‘La Madre’, because that’s what it is – it nurtures you through the first years of business”. That is definitely the vibe and feeling of La Cocina – a warm welcoming kitchen, with a clear sense that you’ll also learn to balance your checkbook and to never leave the sink full of dirty dishes.

The support of La Cocina also extends to providing website and packaging assistance to entrepreneurs. Cellophane bags of spicy pepitas have a simple logo sticker, while sumptuous cookies filled with dulce di leche are crisply boxed. La Cocina also provides marketing support, selling products from entrepreneurs at Bay Area farmers’ markets on commission (the center consolidates products from many of the entrepreneurs in a single stand), and also works with entrepreneurs to assist them in developing direct-to-public sales at markets.

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The fabric of a local food system is made up of the type of entrepreneurs that La Cocina is inspiring, supporting, and growing. Although La Cocina does not advocate for organic/local ingredients with their entrepreneurs (many opt into purchasing these ingredients of their own accord), the role they play in building a greener food system is crucial. These local entrepreneurs are providing access to quality foods prepared on a human – not industrial – scale, and they are supporting direct marketing efforts around the city by providing great value-added products for sale.

In 2009, Caleb estimates that six entrepreneurs will graduate from the program. When asked about how and if the program will expand given its evident success, Caleb responds that although they’d like to maintain their current size, they are not interested in expanding the operation beyond a potential future store or permanent marketplace to sell their entrepreneurs’ products. They’d like to share their model, though, by working with other groups and businesses to assist them in building incubators that learn from and build on La Cocina’s success. Find out more by checking out the great products on the La Cocina website, and check back to the site in December for gift boxes of foods made by La Cocina entrepreneurs. Also, if you live in the Bay Area, El Huarache Loco – at the Alemany market on Saturdays – is a La Cocina experience not to be missed. The Huarache is delicious and crisp, topped with onions, peppers, sausage – or, for the especially indulgent, fried eggs and mole sauce.

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Photo: La Cocina

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Anya Fernald was most recently Executive Director of Slow Food Nation, and has just launched a new venture - Live Culture Co. Read more >

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  1. Just wanted to say HI. I found your blog a few days ago on Technorati and have been reading it over the past few days.

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