What do you guys do at La Cocina?
The mission of La Cocina is to cultivate low income food entrepreneurs as they formalize and grow their businesses by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, industry-specific technical assistance and access to market opportunities. We focus primarily on women from communities of color and immigrant communities. Our vision is that entrepreneurs gain financial security by doing what they love to do, creating an innovative, vibrant and inclusive economic landscape.
What do you do for La Cocina, and how did you find your way to the organization, and that role?
I'm the Program Director at La Cocina, where I oversee our incubator program.
I landed at La Cocina and this job after a journey that started out in tech (writing code)! I'd always been fascinated with how great ideas turn into good businesses, and was also on a search for a way to spend my energy working towards a more just world. So I started to follow a zig zag path with three guiding stars: an interest in entrepreneurship, an innovative, creative organization that thought for themselves, and feeling like my energy was going towards making the world a little more like something I can be proud of.
I went to business school, spent time abroad in social venture capital in India, worked in community development in London, choosing projects based on what excited me and who I liked working with. I also realized over time that I love, love cities - so when I found La Cocina it felt like a dream (that I didn't even know I was chasing). I love working everyday to make this city that I love more vibrant, while building pathways for a more equitable ecosystem that puts women and people of color in positions of leadership. I deeply believe that what we do here can be replicated anywhere, and so I also spend a lot of energy doing work with other cities and partners to spread our practices and ideas.
What do you love most about your work at La Cocina?
Every day is different. We work at any given time with about 35 different businesses run by women from all over the world, in different stages of business growth. So there's always a new exciting story to learn, delicious food to try, and a new challenge to problem solve around. I also deeply respect each member of our tight-knit La Cocina staff, so it's great to feel really confident in the team and our ability to build things together.
What's the biggest mistake you see food entrepreneurs making?
Trying to be everything to everyone.
The businesses that do best quickly come to a compelling menu that is approachable but also allows for some efficiency. When that menu strongly resonates with who they are and the story that has led them to run a food business, it's pure magic.
If you could give one piece of advice to founders in the F&B space, what would it be?
Find a way to test your idea before you jump all the way in. Food businesses are expensive to run, so testing the market a bit allows you to both refine your concept as well as get your head around the operations and costs related to that. This allows you to enter the market more intelligently.
With respect to financing, do you have any advice, or things to watch out for, for F&B founders?
Similar to above - test the market and KEEP TRACK OF YOUR COSTS. I can't insist on this enough. Having a good idea of when money comes in as well as how much it actually costs you to make that money is critical. I think too often early entrepreneurs don't connect money coming in with actually making money. Understanding that flow is power - and with that power you can make adjustments so that you get off the hamster wheel and start to actually feel growth and profitability.
That also dovetails into times that you're ready to take on bigger chunks of financing. Having a sense of how much money you're putting in and the bet you're making on how that will come back to you will allow you to make good decisions as you build the business.
What are you loving eating or drinking right now?
Oh man, what an unfair question. I'm literally surrounded in some of the best food, all the time!
I love a great broth and can eat a brothy noodle soup at pretty much any give time, and have been seriously into Noodle Girl's Beef Pho - available every Thursday at Mission Community Market. This is a city full of pho, but Hang's has another level of depth. She grew up running a restaurant with her mothers and sisters and it shows in everything she makes. I love going to the market with my husband and 21 month old, getting fresh produce, eating a steamy perfect bowl of broth and noodles just as San Francisco's famous fog rolls in and walking back home.
I'll also basically eat a dumpling at any given time, and Bini's Kitchen momos are some of the best.
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