Thanks to the great minds at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Salt Lake County, Spice Kitchen Incubator is one of those parts of our little community that reminds us just how stellar our small-but-growing city is, friends. We’re talking greater good and warm-and-fuzzies all around. This worthy endeavor shows love and support (we’re not short on either of these) to the many refugees that call SLC home, while dusting our landscape with culture and filling our bellies with a whole slew of culinary delights (no foolin'...if the few, food-ridden pics after the drop don’t make you salivate, you have no taste buds). When the project was launching a few years ago, we had the pleasure of talking with Natalie El-Deiry--Development Manager at the IRC, cityhomeCOLLECTIVE client, and all-around primo person--about her work with the IRC and SL County. The idea? Simple. The effect? Vast. Winners? Us. Losers? Trick question, cuz no one.
In humble terms, it's a community kitchen space that brings together refugees and other disadvantaged community members interested in starting a full- or part-time food business to help sustain and support their families. That doesn’t begin to give the cause justice, though. Read on for a Q&A about this tippy-top-notch enterprise, then click the link below to donate or volunteer.
So, let’s get right to it. What is the Spice Kitchen Incubator? Many refugees come to the U.S. having owned or operated their own food business in other countries or have food products they have been selling informally to friends or family. However, many need assistance in learning about U.S. food-industry standards and small business development to turn their food business dream into reality. Spice Kitchen Incubator aims to provide the necessary skills for new entrepreneurs to build viable food businesses while adding to the diverse food community in Salt Lake City. The food industry is the lowest barrier industry for immigrants to enter. Spice Kitchen Incubator is a community kitchen space which brings entrepreneurs together to develop successful food businesses, preserve their culinary traditions and share their talents with Salt Lake City community.
Love it. Tell us a little bit about the International Rescue Committee and its partnership with Salt Lake County and this endeavor. The International Rescue Committee, Inc. (IRC) is one of the largest non-profit, non-sectarian organizations providing relief, protection and resettlement services to refugees who have been forced to flee their homeland due to violence, persecution or civil war. Founded in 1933 [Author’s aside - Albert Einstein was involved], the IRC is a global leader in emergency relief, rehabilitation, protection of human rights, post-conflict development, resettlement services and advocacy for those uprooted or affected by violent conflict and oppression. Through 22 IRC locations in cities across the United States, IRC helps refugees resettle in the U.S. and become self-sufficient. Since opening in 1994, the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City (IRC) has resettled over 8,500 refugees. Most refugees resettled by IRC initially live in Salt Lake City. IRC staff and volunteers help refugees gain stability, security, and self-respect; provide food, shelter, medical assistance, school placement, and other basic living essentials; orient clients to their new homes and communities; and coordinate employment, literacy, and English language training. Salt Lake County was instrumental in the creation of Spice Kitchen Incubator. Zee min Xiao, Refugee Services Liaison at Salt Lake County, [has] incorporated advising aspiring food entrepreneurs into her work for the past several years, but knew more time should be dedicated to their pursuits. The International Rescue Committee joined their efforts in the summer of 2012 and the two organizations have partnered in this endeavor since.
What is your role with the IRC? I am the Development Manager at the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City. I work to increase the sustainability through fundraising and public relations. I also get the pleasure of developing new programs for the IRC SLC including New Roots and now Spice Kitchen Incubator. Personally, I feel passionate about creating a thriving local food scene.
How did the idea for the SPICE Kitchen Incubator come about? It began when a group of refugee women spoke with Salt Lake County officials of their desire to open small restaurants and shops. Zee Xiao spent multiple hours each week counseling and advising these entrepreneurs. Recognizing there was a greater demand in the community for food entrepreneurship and commercial kitchen space, the IRC and Salt Lake County started speaking to local funders about turning Zee's efforts into a full program. We built the program based on best practices from Culinary Incubator Kitchens from San Francisco and New York City.
Define "business incubator": The National Business Incubation Association defines a business incubator as a comprehensive-assistance program targeted to help start-up and early-stage firms, with the goal of improving their chances to grow into healthy, sustainable companies. Spice Kitchen Incubator ensures participants have affordable access to commercial kitchen space to learn the basics in commercial kitchen operations, proper food handling procedures and steps involved in building a sustainable food business.
What are the goals for Spice Kitchen (aside from bringing our fair city more amazing food)? Beyond the benefit of providing Salt Lake City with delicious food from more regions of the world, Spice Kitchen seeks to provide sustainable futures for refugees and low to moderate income community members. By helping them create viable and lasting food businesses, they will be able to provide themselves and their families with a strong future. Along with that, Spice Kitchen Incubator will contribute positively to economic development. Salt Lake City’s Culinary Business Incubator Study, published in August 2013, stated that a facility the size of Spice Kitchen Incubator will create an average of 26 jobs each year.
This will be an outstanding resource for refugees. What are the key elements of a program like this? This program works in three stages: Pre-Incubation, Incubation and Graduation. The goals of Pre-Incubation, which lasts anywhere from 6 months to 1 year, include completing a business plan, product development, creating a brand identity and establishing a legal business. The Incubation phase provides the entrepreneur with guidance in qualifying for capital, sustaining a business and growing her profit margin. Upon Graduation, a participant will have met these and other benchmarks, moved beyond the Spice Kitchen Incubator location, and will become a member of the alumni community. Spice Kitchen Incubator will provide subsidized commercial kitchen space which members in the Incubation and Alumni phases will pay a reasonable rate to use. Participants will be presented with industry-specific technical assistance and workshops to gain knowledge in areas such as marketing, product development and managing a food business. Another benefit of being a Spice Kitchen Incubator participant is that each entrepreneur will receive access to markets and market positioning by being connected to market opportunities and utilizing co-branding techniques.