Support These La Cocina Food Entrepreneurs at the Farmers Market
Savannah Kuang, CUESA Staff
June 27, 2019
Born in 2005 with a mission to support low-income food entrepreneurs with something delicious to offer, La Cocina has helped over 40 local food entrepreneurs—most of them immigrant women and women of color—on their paths to creating thriving businesses.
“La Cocina was formed as an idea to build a community kitchen space for the neighborhood, but eventually evolved into this incubator kitchen space to provide business services for food entrepreneurs,” says Leticia Landa, Deputy Director at La Cocina. “Many people have asked me if there was an original founder of La Cocina. There really isn’t one because it was more of a community effort, which I think makes La Cocina the food business incubator that it is today.”
Offering affordable commercial cooking space and technical assistance, the incubator promotes equity by lowering barriers and for innovative and passionate food makers as they formalize their businesses. For over a decade, La Cocina has partnered with CUESA to help new entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level.
From the Kitchen to the Market
A rotating pop-up stand at CUESA’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays showcases a different business each month, ranging from artisan truffles (NeoCocoa) to edible insects (Don Bugito) to baobab-based beverages (Teranga). This month, Karla Rosales-Barrios of Passed the Sauce sells salsas inspired by her Nicaraguan and San Franciscan roots.
“We saw our partnership with CUESA as an opportunity to have the entrepreneurs sell what they were making,” says Leticia. For business owners, being at the farmers market can provide first exposure to the public when introducing flavors or products that may be new or less familiar to some palates.
Having real-time conversations with the receptive market-goers, both locals and tourists alike, can provide an important next step as they refine their marketing approach and build their customer base and brand. As La Cocina alums grow their businesses, some of the graduates now have permanent booths at CUESA’s farmers markets.
“I love the farmers market, because the regular customers who come here are very loyal and very San Franciscan, and they love to try different foods,” says Binita Pradhan of Bini’s Kitchen, who sells her Nepalese dumplings, known as momos, at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays.
La Cocina Businesses at the Farmers Market
La Cocina’s vision and family keep growing. This spring, they released their first cookbook, We Are La Cocina: Recipes in Pursuit of the American Dream, and they are currently in the process of opening a municipal marketplace in the Tenderloin, while La Cocina-born businesses such as Reem’s and Nyum Bai are receiving top accolades near and far.
Get to know and support these La Cocina entrepreneurs as they share their delicious, made-with-love foods at CUESA’s farmers markets, and look for their recipes in We Are La Cocina.
In 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, Mariko started selling her handmade miso to raise funds for victims. Through Aedan Fermented, she now brings the traditions of healthy and flavorful Japanese cuisine to the table with fermented foods such as miso, koji, and amazake. “It’s been helpful to sell at the farmers market because it provides me a chance to explain fermentation directly to a variety of customers—such as tourists, locals, chefs, and even researchers,” says Mariko. Saturday at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
Originally from Kathmandu, Binita, known as “Bini,” immigrated to the United States in 2004 and began consulting for restaurants. After her (now former) husband became abusive, she moved to her sister’s home and rebuilt her life by returning to cooking. She made brown-bag meals for local daycare centers, and as she started building a customer base, she was connected with La Cocina. In addition to farmers markets and street food pop-ups, Bini sells her momos (Nepalese dumplings) at a kiosk on Post Street and recently opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant in SOMA. She prides herself in being the only Nepalese caterer in San Francisco. Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
Charles spent many years studying French pastry techniques under esteemed black chefs, and worked as a chef in boats and trains. Since then, he has developed a following through his immaculately crafted cheesecakes, with flavors like berry and beet, roasted peach crumble, and spicy Mexican chocolate. “The farmers market allows me to expand my cheesecakes to a wider audience,” says Charles. “It’s a life-changing experience because I’m selling my cheesecakes to people that didn’t know about my company.” Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
For 18 years, Olivia worked as a cook in San Francisco. She originally learned to cook from her grandmother, who loved Mexican traditions and cultures and was an avid collector of recipes from all over the country. Olivia Mecalco makes antojitos inspired by her grandmother’s cooking and her memories of Mexico City, including sopes, huaraches, pambazos, tacos, tortas, and other street food favorites. Tuesdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
Before starting Mi Morena, Guadalupe worked at El Huarache Loco with Veronica Salazar, her sister-in-law and one of the first La Cocina graduates. She offers San Francisco diners traditional tacos with quality ingredients and handmade tortillas. “De guisado” refers to the homemade stewed fillings, and her dishes are rooted in the cuisine of her home in Mexico City. Thursdays at Mission Community Market.
Aisan and Mehdi launched Oyna Natural Foods through La Cocina, offering four varieties of kuku to introduce Persian cuisine to the United States. Kuku is a savory, baked vegetable and egg dish with less egg than quiche or frittata. One of them is Sabzi, the signature kuku of Iran, made with four different types of herbs. “The Ferry Plaza has been a great place for us to sell and introduce our kukus,” says Mehdi. Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
Reem’s specialty is a Lebanese street food known as mana’eesh (man’oushe, in the singular), a soft, pizza-like flatbread topped with za’atar and fresh vegetables, cheese, or cured meats, and rolled up in a tasty wrap. Reem adds her own California twist by using seasonal toppings from the local foodshed. “We literally want people to feel the warmth of fresh, hot baked bread, and also the warmth of the people who make it,” says Reem. A James Beard Award semifinalist, Reem has also opened a popular restaurant and bakery in Oakland’s Fruitvale District. Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
Join us at the CUESA Classroom at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market tomorrow (June 29) for a cooking demo with La Cocina directors Caleb Ziga and Leticia Landa. Learn more here.
La Cocina collage photo by Eric Wolfinger.