In Denver, Colorado, Lidia pays a visit to the Comal Heritage Food Incubator, where budding chefs can take their family recipes and elevate them for public consumption through a restaurant and catering business.
Vian Al Nidawi is an Iraqi-Syrian refugee who has worked her way up in the kitchen to the position of lead chef.
In 2015, a group of immigrant women came to Focus Points Family Resource Center, a non-profit organization committed to serving low-income families in the greater northeast Denver area, with a request. They asked Slavica Park, the Director of Education and Economic Opportunity, to help them figure out how they could learn the skills necessary to opening catering businesses or other food-related businesses to support their families and to use the skills and recipes they’d brought from their homes to America.
Vian Al Nidawi (right) and her daughter Sara Nassr both work at Comal Heritage Food Incubator
A year later, Comal Heritage Food Incubator opened its doors as a training program for low-income women. The first class, 15 Latin American women, started learning the business of food. Comal provides them an industrial kitchen and training under a seasoned chef who teaches them how to refine a recipe for scaling up, how to source food, how to shape a menu. Comal is also open for lunch, where the women practice and refine their dishes, gain practice interacting with customers, and learn about pricing and the sales side of the restaurant industry.
One of the recent graduates of the program is Erika Rojas. Hailing from Guadalajara, Erika now has her own business–a food truck where she cooks and serves the Mexican dishes she grew up with.
The incubator offers a diverse menu—from Mexican to Middle Eastern—and has become a Denver hotspot. The locally grown program provides an incredible model that can be duplicated in other rural and urban areas around the country. Because workers are paid for their work as they train, it breaks the cycle of foregoing income to pursue education.
Erika Rojas (left) of Prieto’s Catering and Arden Lewis, Executive Chef at Comal Heritage Food Incubator