Published on: Monday, August 1, 2016 Takoma Park Newsletter

A kitchen of their own

By Helen Lyons

A brand new community kitchen at the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church will give micro entrepreneurs a leg up as they build their businesses, thanks to a partnership with Crossroads Community Food Network and grants from the city, county, and state.

“There’s lots of people who have incredible skills and talent and want to start food businesses,” said Lorig Charkoudian, the executive director of Community Mediation Maryland, who spearheaded the initiative, “and to have food businesses, you have to have a licensed commercial kitchen.”

Charkoudian said that many of those ambitious entrepreneurs lack the capital required to obtain access to a licensed kitchen, and entrepreneurs said that the kitchens in their homes aren’t suitable for building strong businesses.

“The difference between having it in your house and having your own [commercial] kitchen is huge,” said Maria Pia Chirinos, who hopes that the Community Kitchen will allow her to grow her mother-daughter catering business specializing in Peruvian cuisine.

“We are fifteen minutes away from here,” Pia Chrinios said, “so it would be awesome to have the kitchen right here. We can come, cook here and sell our food. The kitchen here is going to be amazing.”

Beverly Coleman, the owner of Bev’s Gourmet Salad Creations, called the convenience “an awesome thing.”

“You don’t have to go hunting and pecking and trying to find somewhere,” she said. “We have our own kitchen in the community. It’s home based. It’s a great thing, and it’s definitely going to help me.”

Prospective business owners aren’t the only ones who have taken an interest in the Community Kitchen. Danny Wells, chef and part-owner of Takoma Park’s Republic restaurant, said that he’s drawn by both the uniqueness and the quality of the food that business owners plan to prepare in the kitchen.

“There’s a lot of Latin American producers that produce ingredients that are really hard to find around here,” Wells said, “and in this super diverse community in which we live and work, it’s cool to find channels for harder-to-find products. The general purveyor that I work with can’t find a lot of the products that these guys are going to produce.”

With its focus on “really beginning, low access to capital, new entrepreneurs” rather than more established enterprisers, Lorig Charkoudian said that the Community Kitchen is the only one of its kind in the greater Washington area.

“What this kitchen is going to do is create access for people with limited economic means to really get their businesses and their dreams off the ground,” Charkoudian said.

Xavier Carrillo is among them. He lives just around the corner from the church and sells tropical flavored frozen treats influenced by a nostalgia for his childhood in El Salvador. “It’s going to be so perfect for me,” said Carillo, who hopes the kitchen will help him both grow his business and share his culture.

The kitchen’s renovations have already begun, and Mayor Kate Stewart said that the neglected space in the church is expected to finish its transformation “later this year.”

“The Community Kitchen will host microenterprise development, cooking and nutrition classes,” Mayor Stewart said, “and facilitate the preparation of food for distribution to low-income individuals and families. In its own way, the Community Kitchen will help alleviate hunger and economic inequality by providing for local food production. If those aren’t Takoma Park values, I don’t know what are.”

This article appeared in the August 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.