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Program helps immigrants learn skills to start food businesses featuring their homeland’s cuisine

Posted at 3:33 PM, Mar 29, 2019

Handmade tortillas and rice and beans are all ingredients in some of Silvia Hernandez' most beloved meals.

“I'm from Mexico City, so I love tacos,” she says. “My favorite dish is the carne asada taco.”

Hernandez is an immigrant and came to the U.S. a few years ago. She knew how to cook, but she wanted to turn her passion and skill and wanted to turn her traditional Mexican cooking into a business.

But she had no idea where to even start.

“I didn't know anything about, you know, [the] process, license, requirements,” she says. “I did not even know where offices are located.”

That’s where Slavitca Park came in.

Park created the Comal Heritage Food Incubator as an outreach program. It’s for low-income immigrants, who needed help to start food businesses based around the cuisines of their homelands.

“Everything from understanding, how do you build a menu, how do you source food, how do you price it, what kind of licensing, permitting, you need financing,” Park explains of the education the program provides.

The incubator, which acts as a learning kitchen of sorts, is packed five days a week. Here, the women create their own dishes and train with professional chefs.

The program now includes refugees from Syria and Ethiopia.

“I always say food is one of those things that absolutely transcends everything,” Park says. “I just really think that food is the vehicle that builds the community. Breaking breads. That's what it’s all about.”

Hernandez completed the program and now has her own catering company. But she says she just can’t stay away from the program. She still works a couple shifts a week in the incubator.

Park loves hearing the stories of those who complete the program.

"What comes out of it, it’s nothing short of pure magic,” she says.