SALT LAKE CITY — The SPICE Kitchen Incubator isn't just a commercial kitchen. It's a place where dreams come true.
"I have a hot sauce I produce," said Cathy Tshilombo-Lokemba, owner of Mama Africa and maker of Pili-Pili, an authentic African hot sauce.
"This is the home of it now. I going to start cooking it right here," she said, referring to the opening of the new SPICE Kitchen Incubator at 2180 S. 300 West.
On Wednesday, SPICE Kitchen partners Salt Lake County and the International Rescue Committee conducted an open house of the facility, which includes a commercial kitchen, training space and offices. SPICE is an acronym for Supporting the Pursuit of Innovative Culinary Entrepreneurs.
The facility is home base for the SPICE Kitchen program, which guides refugees, recent immigrants and other disadvantaged people in developing successful food businesses.
Participants learn proper food-handling techniques, how to apply for permits, as well as effective marketing and advertising strategies.
Tshilombo-Lokemba, who is from Congo and also has lived in Europe, said the program has been a great support to her business.
"I've been in Tooele almost eight years, and I never get this kind of exposure. Now I get to be in the farmers market. I applied for six years, and I never get in. Because of SPICE, they finally took me. I was there all summer long. They were so impressed they asked to come back for the winter market," she said.
Pili-Pili is also sold in Tony Caputo's Market & Deli, Tshilombo-Lokemba said.
Lucy Thanghliang, a refugee from Burma, said SPICE Kitchen's technical assistance has helped Family Fresh Sushi, a business she started with her husband, Dar Ki, in 2009, evolve from a handful of small stores to selling its sushi in 27 grocery stores from Logan to St. George. Family Fresh Sushi is sold at Dan's, Fresh Market, Macey's and Lin's stores.
"The SPICE Kitchen helped me with a lot of my papers, my documents, advertising, menus and stuff. They help me with ideas like how to grow the business. I ask them for whatever I need. It is a good way to do business," Thanghliang said.
The SPICE Kitchen Incubator was started with the realization that many refugees arrive in Utah with few resources except a knowledge of farming and cooking learned in their home countries, said Natalie El-Deiry, development manager for the International Rescue Committee's Salt Lake office.
The incubator helps budding entrepreneurs turn their skills into small businesses, which helps them support their families and help create jobs.
"The program was born from the idea that everyone deserves a chance to achieve their dreams. Refugees are natural entrepreneurs. Given the right resources, they can create self-sufficient businesses that benefit themselves, their families and their communities," El-Deiry said.
Ze Min Xiao, community innovation manager and refugee liaison for Salt Lake County, said the commercial kitchen facilities, made possible through donations from private partners, will also be available for rent when the space is not needed for SPICE Kitchen programming.
"This was the dream. We just never thought it would be this nice," Xiao said.
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