With so much talent and energy around food in South Tucson, the YWCA of Southern Arizona is looking to corral and cultivate it.
Set to break ground next month, Tucson’s first community kitchen will open later this year on the YWCA’s House of Neighborly Service campus, 243 W. 33rd St.
“There’s a rich culture around food, from youth gardening programs to farmer’s markets,” said Kerri Lopez-Howell, director of the House of Neighborly Service. “We saw there was a lot of movement and activity around food, but no kitchen.”
The commissary kitchen will provide space for restaurant entrepreneurs to prepare their food and get business basics on how to market with guidance from the YWCA’s Women’s Business Center.
“It has a lot of energy behind it,” Lopez-Howell said. “And, through the business center we can incubate these small businesses.”
The kitchen will be able to support several cooks at once. They won’t sell their goods from the site, but will get leads on how and where to build a following and pricing advice.
There will be an application process, and the focus will be on minority and low-income women, Lopez-Howell said.
The role of the Women’s Business Center will be entrepreneurial mentoring and business-training assistance, said Marisol Flores-Aguirre, the center’s director.
“Most folks are experts in their product but don’t know how to price it or market it,” she said. “We can help them with everything from how to do Quickbooks to writing a business plan.”
There will be an enrollment cost, but Flores-Aguirre said the YWCA is adamant that cost not be a barrier for those interested.
“We want to make it as inclusive as possible,” she said. “It’s intentional that we’re doing this in South Tucson.”
People often ask if the women’s center also helps men.
“Nobody is turned away,” Flores-Aguirre said. “That’s the case with all the women’s center programs, not just the kitchen.”
She imagines the program helping expand restaurant row in South Tucson.
“We want to empower self-determination in that community that’s healthy and vibrant and also has economic power that you don’t associate with South Tucson,” Flores-Aguirre said. “This is what we want the neighborhood to be known for.”
So far, the project has raised $92,000 and is looking for more restaurateurs to help mentor participants.
Ray Flores, owner of El Charro restaurants, was the first to volunteer.
“It’s potential to be entrepreneurial,” he said of the reason for his involvement. “As someone who has always created my own career moves and thousands of jobs for others, I think the concept of building something to grow the entrepreneur in others is simply an extension of everything my family and I have worked for over the last near-100 years of our business life.”