Three Sisters Kitchen: Boosting the Food Economy One Biscochito at a Time
September 6, 2018
In Albuquerque, the food industry has potential to be a major economic driver, and is one of the most accessible entry points for minority entrepreneurs. City Alive’s Small Business Landscape Assessment report found food businesses have great scale-up potential, but the upfront costs remain the biggest barrier. How can a food business owner scale up without a commercial kitchen, a walk-in cooler or a shipping facility? They would need access to capital. When studies show entrepreneurs of color face higher denial rates, pay higher interest rates and receive lower loan amounts than businesses owned by white entrepreneurs, it’s obvious why success in this sector remains challenging despite seemingly high accessibility.
However, two innovators are partnering to break down these barriers to food business success. Three Sisters Kitchen, which held a grand opening last month, is a test kitchen, community classroom, local foods shop and a business incubator. They are partnering with Co-op Capital, which is revolutionizing access to loans through relationship-based, microlending. In this interview with Three Sisters Kitchen Director Anzia Bennett we learn how this powerful partnership will invigorate the food business sector.
In what stage should an entrepreneur come to Three Sisters Kitchen for help?
We are a first stop for new food business development. Three Sisters Kitchen’s Food Business Training Program is for cooks who have that one recipe that friends and family have been telling them for years, “Why don’t you bottle that?” This is a place to bring that special jam, salsa or cookie recipe and test it in our commercial kitchen. Instead of making gifts for their family every holiday season, cooks can come in and explore whether their signature recipe might be a viable business.
How does the Food Business Training Program work?
This program started as a direct response to community members asking for a space to experiment, test and develop food business ideas. We kept hearing over and over that access to equipment, space, and loans were making it impossible to start or scale up food business concepts. Our 15-week Food Business Training Program teaches the skills needed to bring products and businesses to market successfully - from regulatory requirements and cost analysis, to finding local sources for ingredients. Participants also get direct feedback on their product concept (and begin to develop a customer base) through community tasting events and other opportunities that guide their product development process. By the time trainees leave they are making the most informed decisions on whether and how to move forward.
How will Three Sisters Kitchen strengthen the food business sector?
It is really important that food business entrepreneurs - especially those with limited financial capital - have the opportunity to take risks, make mistakes and learn as they build out their businesses. Instead of trying, failing and giving up, we allow new entrepreneurs to have the space and time to build stronger business concepts. New entrepreneurs can come here and ruin batch after batch until they get the recipe just right. Then, once our graduates are ready to take the next leap, we connect them with other commercial kitchens and resources like the Street Food Institute and the Mixing Bowl Kitchen at the South Valley Economic Development Center where they can scale up their production. I like to think of us as an incubator for the incubators.
How is Co-op Capital integrated?
We know that access to capital in this early stage can make or break a small food business. That’s why we’re so excited to offer our program graduates the opportunity to apply for low-interest loans through the Co-op Capital program. We know that not everyone who completes our training program will choose to start their own food business - it is not the right decision for everyone. For those people who have a tested recipe and a solid business concept, Co-op Capital will enable small loans at great rates to help scale up and realize their dream. We are grateful to Nusenda and their partners for making this micro-lending program possible, and we look forward to piloting the program so that we can learn what will work to best support new and emerging local food businesses.
How will Three Sisters Kitchen affect the local food system?
Our Food Business Training Program exists to help people build the businesses that make the most sense for them - whether that means selling at weekly farmers markets, or getting their products on the shelves at regional grocery stores. There’s no one right way to be a successful food business. What’s important is to find the appropriate size and scale for their concept and explore ways our values can be reflected in our food economy. That means sourcing local ingredients, paying a living wage, thinking about the environmental impact of our packaging, etc. All of our work will be stronger if we work together intentionally and strategically. Our mission is to help create a food-secure community, celebrate New Mexico’s vibrant cultures and use food-based businesses as a way to create economic opportunity and justice.