As the local forager for Whole Foods Market stores in Northern California and Reno, I'm constantly searching for new flavors to bring onto our shelves. As much as I love tasting fantastic food, the best part of my day is meeting the people behind the products. Many of these folks quit their "regular jobs" to pursue a culinary career with little more than a few fantastic recipes and a hard-core work ethic.
Enter La Cocina
Starting your own business is one of the hardest things to do, and food businesses are even tougher because they have to comply with a slew of regulations. That's where La Cocina comes in. This incubator kitchen based in San Francisco helps low-income individuals launch their dreams by providing reduced-rent commercial kitchen space, finance classes, access to markets, and lots of individualized assistance. Most of the participants are immigrants or women from communities of color.
Eat the Street
For the past five years, Whole Foods Market has partnered with La Cocina to throw the biggest, raddest, most delicious food festival of the summer. On August 16th, the San Francisco Street Food Festival will take over several blocks of the Mission. Over eighty vendors, including high-end restaurants from around the Bay Area, will be there to serve street food-style snacks to hordes of hungry visitors.
I'm most excited to see La Cocina participants showcasing their stuff, especially the ones I've been lucky enough to get to know and bring into our stores. There's amazing Azalina who makes Malaysian peanut sauce and coconut jam based on family recipes, the best-ever hummus from Donna of Love & Hummus, and juicy Nepalese dumplings called momo from Bini's Kitchen.
Local Food Maker Grant
If it's one thing I've learned from La Cocina it's that there are so many talented people out there who just need a little help to get their foot in the door. That's why Whole Foods Market in Northern California and Reno has created a Local Food Maker Grant with the assistance of Working Solutions, a nonprofit that supports small business. We hand-picked 120 of the most exciting local businesses, and then our customers voted for their favorites. Every Northern California store awarded a grant to one winner that ranged from $3,000 to $6,000.
Seeing local foodmakers prosper is an amazing feeling. If you’re in the area, I hope to see you all at the San Francisco Street Food Festival on August 16th. And don't forget to stop by the Whole Foods Market booth. We'll be handing out all sorts of awesome freebies.
Have a favorite local food maker? Let us know in the comments section.