Walking into Salt Lake County’s SPICE Kitchen Incubator, you’re immediately surrounded by the scent of home cooking, from a tray of freshly baked baklava, Turkish donuts and fried falafel.
SPICE, short for Supporting the Pursuit of Innovative Culinary Entrepreneurs, is housed in a warehouse-type building with a large commercial kitchen and offices for the incubator’s employees. It offers refugees, immigrants and other residents a chance to become entrepreneurs and start their own culinary businesses. The incubator is adding new flavors to Salt Lake County, with foods cooked up from around the globe including Jamaica, Iraq, Kenya and Venezuela.
“This is delicious,” NACo President Roy Charles Brooks, commissioner, Tarrant County, Texas told Kaltum, a refugee from Sudan, as he took a bite of a falafel pulled from the fryer. Brooks and others toured the kitchen, sampling some of the freshly cooked items that were made for the tour, during the LUCC Symposium.
Kate Idzorek, who manages the program, told LUCC members that the food industry is typically a “low barrier” industry that’s easier for immigrants and others to enter and start a business.
Some of the 20-plus food businesses that have been launched by incubator participants include a restaurant, catering business and food truck. Three full-time incubator employees help refugees navigate the two-part program, which teaches participants business basics, from developing recipes and learning how to analyze food costs to understanding state and federal laws surrounding food handling.
The endeavor, which operates on an annual budget of $200,000, is a partnership between the International Rescue Committee and Salt Lake County Refugee Services and is funded with Community Development Block Grants as well as help from SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), the Women’s Business Center and the Utah State University Extension service. The incubator also reaches out to donors for needs. Residents who take part in the program must apply and meet income requirements.
Entrepreneurs can earn extra income by offering cooked meals for “Spice to Go!” a weekly hot-meal take-out service for local residents, featuring food cooked by a different chef each week; meals start at $12. Residents must place their orders by noon the day before pickup.
Here is what is offered to participants at Salt Lake County’s Spice Kitchen Incubator:
- Access to Commercial Kitchen Space: Subsidized kitchen space will be provided to ensure access for participants and other community members.
- Workshops: Workshops will be offered to participants and the general public on various aspects of food business and cooking. These events will build community, raise the profiles of the entrepreneurs and raise funds for the program.
- Access to Markets and Market Positioning: Participants will be connected to market opportunities, market partners, and SPICE Kitchen Incubator co-branding for the mainstream customer base.
- Industry-Specific Technical Assistance and Mentorship: Partnering with current micro-enterprise efforts for refugees and local restaurateurs and food industry professionals, a network of dedicated professionals will provide free or subsidized technical assistance in marketing, operations and product development. Access to capital via micro- and small-business loans will also be provided.