Ever since the recession of 2008 small businesses have struggled to keep their doors open, a challenge that is even more Herculean in a city as expensive as San Francisco. According to the Business Journals of U.S. Census Bureau data, more than 170,000 small businesses in the U.S. closed between 2008 and 2010. Although the economy has improved over the past several years, the odds of opening and maintaining a successful San Francisco business are low, and for the competitive food business? Even lower.
The costs of rent, labor, and not to mention product are enough to intimidate most potential restaurateurs. Running a San Francisco restaurant can cost as much as 2,500 per square foot, and that doesn’t even include renovations, licenses, construction delays, etc. As the cost of doing business continues to rise in the Bay Area, another threat has arisen: the homogenization of cuisine and culture.
San Francisco is a city that has always prided itself on its diversity: diversity of opinions, beliefs, language, ethnicity. As diversity declines, so too does the variety of restaurants and their owners. La Cocina aspires to alter the course this disquieting trend.
Located in the Mission District, La Cocina is an “incubator kitchen” that cultivates low-income, often minority food entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses and gain financial security while doing what they love. The certified Green Business and nonprofit was born out of a belief that a community of natural entrepreneurs, given the right resources, can create self-suﬃcient businesses that empower employees, the community, and ultimately, the whole city. Recognizing that food entrepreneurs face an uphill battle with enormous start-up costs and a crowded marketplace, La Cocina provides affordable kitchen space, technical assistance, and access to market opportunities to get them on their feet. Simply put, this innovative program transforms illegal home restaurants or street food stands into legitimate companies, “lemonade stands” into lemonade companies.
La Cocina aids approximately 30 entrepreneurs at a time, all of whom begin their venture with natural talent but little to no resources and lack of access to a commercial kitchen space. Some of the businesses have entered with as little as $5,000 in capital or less. The only requirements to apply to work with La Cocina are a strong business plan showing the product’s viability and an entrepreneurial spirit. Each accepted applicant works with La Cocina for an average of four to five years to grow his or her business to a point of viability. La Cocina actively works to mitigate the steep costs of facilities and materials, identify marketing opportunities and navigate leases, while the participating businesses with them are expected to meet 80% of their set goals in return.
Today, La Cocina “graduates” sell their products in city shops, regionally, nationally, and even internationally. The kitchen has helped companies like Sajen, Sabores del Sur, Clairesquares, Onigilly, and more come to life changing the very idea of what a “small business,” and a community, is capable of. We were most proud, when our owner Kimberly Charles drew a spotlight on this great organization years ago when she was a guest on Check Please! Bay Area by profiling El Huarache Loco owner, Veronica Salazar. In the face of a homogenizing city, La Cocina is enriching San Francisco cuisine and culture by empowering communities, creating jobs and exposing us to a whole world of flavors. La Cocina shows that with a collaborative community, money does not have to be an obstacle in achieving life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
All the Swirl is a collection of thoughts and opinions assembled by the staff and industry friends of Charles Communications Associates, a marketing communications firm with its headquarters in San Francisco, California. We invite you to explore more about our company and clients by visiting www.charlescomm.com.