La Cocina Empowers Immigrant Chefs to Do What They Love

Introducing the non-profit that helps low-income immigrant women turn their skills and passion into income-generating businesses.

By Channing Kennedy Aug 31, 2011

Here at Colorlines, we love food like we love cute kids and justice. So we were thrilled to read at GOOD about a San Francisco nonprofit, La Cocina, that helps low-income immigrant women turn their skills and passion into income-generating businesses. With La Cocina’s help, its clients have brought their home cooking to food trucks, brick-and-mortar restaurants, caterers, and even Whole Foods distributors, with skills to stay in business for the long run.

As Emily Voigtlander writes at GOOD,

The idea for La Cocina began in the late ’90s based on feedback from other nonprofit groups serving immigrants in the Mission District. Launched in 2005, La Cocina was born out of a paralyzing community-wide need for affordable commercial kitchen space. Women were selling delicious food out of their homes or on the streets, but were unable to take their businesses any further.

"The barriers to entering the food industry are high and they are real," Caleb Zigas, the organization’s executive director, says. Commercial kitchen space is prohibitively expensive and La Cocina’s "clients face additional barriers like perception barriers, language barriers and class barriers" that make it extremely difficult to start and maintain a small business.

[…] Last weekend, the organization hosted their third annual Street Food Festival, a tradition that celebrates the organization’s businesses. "We think our clients bust their asses just like any other chef in this city, but those chefs tend to get respect whereas our clients tend to be lumped among ethnic eateries," said Zigas. "There is something that feels innately unfair about that. Our festival is intended to flip that and to bring the community around this type of food, street food."

Immigrant women of color overcome barriers to business ownership, and we overcome a paucity of delicious lunch options? We love a win/win. Oh, and don’t miss Voigtlander’s slideshow, if you can handle seeing delicious pork tacos on an empty stomach.

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