We're excited to introduce you to incubator program participant Caroline Musitu! Her new business, Taste of Congo, has been a hit at farmers markets in Renton and Federal Way this summer. Visit her at a farmers market, check out Taste of Congo's catering menu, and read on for our Q & A with Caroline. Tell us about your business. My business is a catering food service. I cook African food -- Congolese food. I make samosas, rice with vegetables, goat, chicken, salad, French donuts called beignets, and more. What inspired you to start this business? I am from Congo, from Kinshasa, a beautiful city where people like to dance and to eat. There’s lots of parties and celebration. When I was young, my mom used to do catering for weddings, parties, and church; I used to help her make things. But when I came here, my Congolese community would just cook food on their own for events. I said, Why not start a business cooking for them? Special events like weddings happen once in your life, and you have to have food that wows! What makes you different from other catering companies? I have the only Congolese food business in the area! Once people try Congolese food, they’ll know it’s good. It’s very fresh and healthy, too. What do you like best about your work? When my food makes people happy. What is something people might be surprised to learn about you or your business? I’ve cooked since I was 10 years old. When people visited, I’d go to the kitchen and cook for them. My siblings don’t like to cook, but I love it. My mom showed me how to cook, but I like to invent new recipes; I don’t like to do the same thing, I want to keep it fresh and different. What’s your business’ biggest challenge? I’m learning how the market works, and how to present Congolese food to people who aren’t Congolese. What services or programs have been helpful? Ventures and FIN have helped with the business side: the formal lessons, marketing, calculation, prices. What would you say to other small food business owners thinking of working with FIN? FIN are good people to work with; they help us small businesses to get started, grow, and even become big businesses. Contact Caroline: 206.778.5615, email@example.com, Taste of Congo on Facebook
At the end of last year, we sent several advocates to the Community Food Systems Conference. Here's what they learned...
My general perception is that the conference central topics were farming and projects/programs related to farming. One of the workshops that I attended talked about doing partnerships with churches that have land to offer farming opportunities for low-income families. I am convinced that FIN has to be innovative in building new partnerships.
I noticed that most of the non-profits had white board members but serve immigrant and refugee communities. I like that FIN is inclusive and gives the opportunity to advocates to be part of the steering committee and being part of the voices that make decisions. However, we do need to have more visibility in the community. I think that seeing from others and learning from other organizations around will give us the opportunity to improve FIN work. I am proud about FIN diversity in the steering committee and community/partners - our mission and vision are led by the people that we serve. I like that we are listened to as FIN Advocates. The advocates are the most authentic members of FIN, they are the connection with the community and their needs.
-Jaqueline Garcia, FIN Advocate
At the end of last year, we sent several advocates to the Community Food Systems Conference. Here's what they learned...The conferences were informative. The conference was packed full of topics, like food, community and organizational involvement, healthy eating, nutrition, social justice, gardening, and farming. It promoted public markets and encouraged better use of SNAP benefits. I was particularly inspired by the food justice workshops that were lead by Native Americans. They focused on teaching children the importance of farming, gardening, land, nature, and spirit. There is a focus on where food comes from and they want children to understand and appreciate the idea of farming and gardening. My takeaway for FIN is the importance of working with children. We should invite or visit schools to promote healthy eating, farming, and gardening. I believe it’s important for children to know the source of food they eat every day. -Zozan Shamdeen, FIN Advocate
At the end of last year, we sent several advocates to the Community Food Systems Conference. Here's what they learned...I learned about movement-building in food systems: the case of Puerto Rico, how people have the ability to sustain themselves, besides early colonial context, production, focused on exportation. Most of their produce comes from outside of the island. They are building a network collectively with people who want to work the land and have little or none knowledge of farming. Children start to learn about farming since first grade through third grade, they are bringing agricultural back and they are applying to math and science concepts. They are trying to influence in Public policy, GMO and pesticide regulation. I also enjoyed Winona LaDuke talk. She mentioned that abundance is the nature of life and discussed how to make America great again in the food access context. We need to farm something to feed our soul. We are interested in feeding the next generation of our people, this is where we will restore the food system. More consumers are seeking farm-fresh food and more farmers,-especially small- and mid-size operations are profiting from these new markers. I learned that every year the USDA awards up to $5 million in grants to help schools connect with local producers and teach children where their food comes from.As a FIN member, I think we can look for partnerships in schools to provide farming support to the children. Favorite Quote: “A country that doesn’t produce what it eats is not free” Jesus Vazquez Thanks FIN for such a great learning experience! -Gladis Clemente, FIN Advocate
Sherehe Kenyan Kitchen[caption id="attachment_2022" align="alignright" width="300"] Graduation day at Ventures.[/caption] Service Area: King County, Tacoma, and North to Everett Availability: I deliver Friday through Monday and prefer a week's notice Contact: 253 332 1615 or firstname.lastname@example.org Q: Tell us about your business? I cater home-style Kenyan food and drinks. You can't miss my signature Chai, brewed with fresh ginger, honey, and international award-winning Kenyan tea. My snacks include samosa a meat or vegetarian filled pastry, wrapped in mild tropical spices. All my meals are stewed in fresh natural fibers and herbs for flavors. I am the oldest of nine and developed my cooking experience and skills while helping my mother to cook for our large family. My siblings and family started expressing how good my food tasted and would always look forward to my next meal. I am a mother of one adult son and I noticed he too would comment positively about his mom’s cooking. He recently joined me here in the United States where he graduated from college and has been very helpful in supporting my business startup. Q: How did you get the idea for your business? While I was living in Kenya and working in an office in Nairobi Kenya’s capital city, I started volunteering at church as well as community events, then I moved to the United States and continued to volunteer at my church and certain community events, people in the community noticed that my food was tasty and encouraged me to cater small events for them, my church also put me in charge of food and beverage organizing during special occasions. The requests grew to where I have catered community weddings between 200-400 people. [caption id="attachment_2024" align="alignleft" width="225"] Lucy at her citizenship swearing in ceremony.[/caption] Q: What makes you different from other types of Kenyan restaurants? I am passionate about what I do, I care that people enjoy what I cook and I get great fulfillment from seeing them enjoy my food. I am creative and health focused. Working as a caregiver, I have the opportunity to feed healthy food to the seniors on my shift. They love and wait for my soups because they have not had any other employee treat them so special. I buy special containers for them so they can feel good about their food and they look forward to the days that I work. My employers are aware of this and I work hard to encourage my co-workers to pay special attention while feeding our seniors. Q: What do you like best about your work? The opportunity to share my ethnic food and social culture with other people, the chance to feed my clients special healthy meals and improve their health and quality of life. I enjoy interacting with others through food. Q: What is your biggest challenge and where have you found help? Time, I have a full-time job as a caregiver and it is not easy work either, I put so many hours of work in a week that I don’t have enough time to do my business tasks in time. Venture’s program “building business, changing lives” and also their coaching activities have been helpful. Startzone is currently helping me develop my business documentation, costing, pricing and invoicing. Q: What is something people might be surprised to learn about you? That I have a social life with close Christian friends and somehow, we find time to get together, pray and have fun singing Christian songs and supporting community events, and that am changing lives through food. Q: What would you say to other small food business owners thinking of working with FIN? I would highly recommend it, every immigrant interested in a food business ought to know about FIN, I would never have thought of growing my business without their help, I would still be cooking only for my familiar community. FIN staff has been so helpful in the process and I am gaining more confidence because of their encouragement.
MarakiMaraki, established in 2016, is an Ethiopian coffee and catering business. Business partners Fanaye Gebeyaw and Lidia Tadlla provide Ethiopian coffee and healthy snacks through the traditional ceremony that is perfect for social occasions. Service Area: Seattle and King County Availability: Call us anytime Contact: (206) 832-5979 Q: Tell us about your business We come to you and make Ethiopian traditional coffee. You will be able to see how a very tasty and original Abyssinica coffee is made, from roasting the fresh beans to brewing. You'll taste our coffee with a healthy snack in the comfort of your own home or at an event. Maraki began catering with the support of Food Innovation Network. In Ethiopia, the traditional way to drink coffee is around coffee stands that hold cups where friends and family members gather, chat, share ideas and have coffee. Maraki pairs traditional coffee with high-quality healthy snacks in the homely and relaxed atmosphere of a client's own space. We meld pure socialization with our traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. With high standards and reliable delivery schedules, we have been able to build and maintain a solid customer base within a short period of time in King County. As founders, we are both experienced in Ethiopian and western foods, give high priority to quality and healthy food. Q: What inspired you to start this business? We were inspired to take the influential culture from Ethiopia and do the same in our local atmosphere. The major inspiring factor for Maraki to start the business was the lack of culture we, as Ethiopians, noticed in the US. With this business, there will be more cultural festivities and an atmosphere just like Ethiopia. Q: What makes you different from other types of coffee businesses? Maraki provides unique service to its customers, we serve Ethiopian coffee with its traditional ceremony. The client watches as we roast the coffee bean which is directly imported from its origin, Ethiopia. Coffee catering is suitable to any social gathering- family, work or public. Our coffee ceremony highly facilitates social interaction. It creates a friendly and relaxed environment while enjoying our tasty coffee and healthy snack. Q: What do you like best about your work? We enjoy working with clients and like to see customers satisfied with our service. It's always a pleasure to socialize with people during the coffee ceremony and seeing them smile. Q: What is your business’ biggest challenge? Our biggest challenge so far is working capital. We would like to reach out many customers and participate in festivals but the working capital is a major challenge to meet that demand. Q: What is something people might be surprised to learn about you or your business? One interesting thing is that both owners are health professionals promoting healthy lifestyle and equity. When we initially established Maraki it was to introduce healthy Ethiopian food and coffee ceremony to the Western community. We believe we can create a healthy community through socialization and understanding each other’s culture. Q: What types of services or programs have been helpful? FIN services have been helpful for the success of Maraki as a catering service. The Network has supported us in accessing a commissary kitchen, creating a forum to network with potential customers, and facilitating us to get our business license and health permits.
Want to brighten up your next social event?
Call Lidia & Fanaye today!
[caption id="attachment_1834" align="alignright" width="300"] Yanzhi and her daughter, Manchun Yu[/caption]
Mian Dian NoodlesMian Dian is an authentic Chinese catering company run by Yanzhi Zhang and her daughter, Manchun Yu. Together, they make handmade food like they used to enjoy in China. Service Area: Within 20 Miles of Kent Availability: Delivery on Saturday and Sundays Contact: 425-524-2721
Q: What inspired you to start Mian Dian Noodles? When I first came to the US, I was surprised and delighted by how much Americans love Chinese food. But after a while, I discovered that most Chinese food sold here has been modified to suit an American palate. American Chinese food has been this way since the 1920s and is far from the kind of food I had back in China. So, I decided to make it my mission to provide Americans with an opportunity to experience real, authentic Chinese food, and provide Chinese people with the food they had back home. Q: What makes you different from other types of Chinese food? My daughter and I both grew up with authentic Chinese food handmade by our loved ones. Every part of our lives was embraced by our traditions and our food. We want to spread the blessing we've had to Americans. Q: What do you like best about your work and what is most challenging? Spending time with my daughter while planning the future of our business. Also being able to share the most important part of our culture with so many people through Chinese cuisine. My daughter and I both have day jobs, so it's very challenging for us to have time for a business. My daughter and I both have day jobs, so it's very challenging for us to have time for a business. My daughter and I have only been in the US for three years, though, and from difficulties with everyday activities to owning a business, we have come a long way. Q: What types of services or programs have been helpful? The project feast training I received two years ago has helped me out a lot in the process of creating my business. I learned a lot about the how to use a commercial kitchen, which I had no experience with before. Q: What would you say to other small food business owners thinking of working with FIN? If they have the opportunity to work with FIN, I highly encourage them to do so. FIN has provided us with all the resources that we needed along the way, they have helped me to make my dream come true.
Want to experience authentic Chinese food?
Call Yanzhi today!
Jazie Fresh MealsJazie Fresh Meals is an on-demand weekly meal service that was just launched this year (2017) in Kent. Owner and chef Jasmin King joins us for an interview as one of FIN's newest Entrepreneurs. Service Area: Pick Up or Free Delivery in Kent, $5-$10 from Tacoma to North Seattle Availability: Orders Filled Every Sunday Contact: (253) 259-4767 Website: jaziefreshmeals.weebly.com Q: Tell us about your business? I produce freshly made meals every week, which are rapidly cooled and may be reheated and consumed by my customers through the week. These meals are never frozen and are made with fresh ingredients, many of which are locally sourced. New menus are available every Wednesday and customers order by Friday for either pickup or delivery on Sunday. Customers can pick and choose how many meals and entrees they’d like to purchase and there is a discount for a full week’s worth of meals. Q: How did you get the idea for your business? What inspired you to start this business? When I started on my journey to eat healthier meals regularly, I realized how much time I put into preparing these meals. While I had the extra time, I knew most people wouldn't. I also researched blogs of folks trying meal preparation on their own. A common struggle was that people would end up having the same meal for a week at a time. I want to help people get into a healthy eating lifestyle while not having to get stuck in the bland and boring routine that comes with not having enough time. Q: What makes you stand out from restaurants? My meals are prepared and quickly cooled so that you can reheat them on your own time, over the course of the week. However, a typical restaurant meal, even if it’s healthy, will only stay fresh for a day or two. Since my meals are not made for service and you receive them cold, they are able to be kept fresh for a week instead of only a couple of days like leftover takeout. Also, unlike restaurants, my menus also change on a weekly basis so that you don't get stuck with the same five meals every week. Q: What do you like best about your work? I love to cook and create new dishes. The task of making them so that they keep and taste good after reheating plus the challenge of keeping them low calorie always keeps me on my toes to create something new. Q: What is your business’ biggest challenge? I think the biggest challenge will be growing customer base. I am sure that once word gets out it will be much easier to keep up business. But since I’m just beginning, it may be very slow for a while. Q: What is something people might be surprised to learn about you or your Cooking was not my first choice in careers. I was originally interested in science, but once I started cooking meals at home I became more interested and realized how much science went into cooking. I really saw how much more fun it was to create dishes and l knew it was what I wanted to do. Q: What types of services or programs have been helpful? Culinary school and working in kitchens have definitely been helpful in my journey and now that I am starting I can't wait to work with FIN and Ventures. I have only begun my journey with them and am looking forward to the extra support. Get in touch with Jasmin and check out her Facebook page for the latest menus!
Civic advocacy is in her blood. Gladis grew up in a small town outside of Acapulco in Mexico where her father was elected mayor not just once but three times. Politicians have a reputation for being rich and out of touch with their constituents in Mexico. Contrary to this, her parents came from a humble lifestyle and always stayed close to their community. Gladis remembers her parents explaining that she would attend public school because education is the most powerful way to change the world. Now, Gladis carries the lessons from her parents into her work with in the US. Gladis joined FIN in 2016 as an advocate because she wanted to work on closing the opportunity gap in South King County communities. Although being a FIN advocate was her first paid job in the US, Gladis has worked hard as a mother, volunteer, and advocate for education reform. Even in the last year, she has been organizing, speaking up, and making connections like crazy. In March of 2017, Gladis participated in a FIN Government 101 training where she connected with Washington CAN, a local advocacy group. She’s since partnered with them to advocate for education reform like universal pre-school, increased funding for dual language programs, and support for immigrant parents.Meanwhile, she’s also become known in the FIN office as the go-to person for budgeting after she volunteered to learn about budgeting for the advocate program.
There are many issues she advocates for but ultimately, Gladis says the most important thing to get others to speak up as well. Over the last year, she has gained confidence and overcome her own barriers of public speaking in a mixed community. She thinks back to the first time she spoke in front of lawmakers in Olympia and knows how intimidating it feels. She believes that if more people speak up, lawmakers will listen – but the challenge is in getting people to talk. This is part of what makes Gladis such an effective community advocate, she sees the value in both helping people and working to change the system at the same time.
“We must educate people to change the system. Get them to see reality is on both sides....We must prioritize civic engagement.”
Gladis wants people to know that it’s possible for people to create their own opportunities. The only way to make a difference is to walk through a door and become involved – ask questions and volunteer to help out. Anyone can make a difference in a community.
Two days after arriving in the US, Madeleine Kabena found herself in an emergency room with her five-year-old daughter, Aline. Despite how it sounds, this was exactly why Madeleine and her family applied for the Diversity Visa lottery that allowed them to immigrate. They came here to find treatment for Aline, who was born with a genetic disorder. Although her health problem doesn’t have a cure, regular treatments can vastly improve both symptoms and outlook. At home in the Congo, treatment was limited and the threat of malaria loomed daily. [caption id="attachment_1737" align="alignright" width="225"] Madeleine's daughter[/caption] While Madeleine brought her family here so her daughter could have a better life, it hasn’t all been easy. At first, it was a high to be in the United States but then reality began to sink in. There were the usual things, like learning a new language, but also some deeper issues. Food at the hospital was not good and she wasn’t finding traditional foods in her neighborhood. In the Congo, there are more than 200 cultures and what connects them all is the belief in good food. It is even thought that some disease can be healed through a healthy and nourishing diet. In fact, this is what Madeleine believes allowed her daughter to survive so long without regular treatments.
[caption id="attachment_1744" align="alignleft" width="169"] Madeleine with her daughter[/caption] By searching for culturally appropriate foods, Madeleine discovered a distinct lack of Congolese shops, restaurants, or even organizations in King County. In all her asking around for connections to food, she eventually met a Congolese man who called himself a ‘Community Food Advocate.’ Madeleine was intrigued and hopeful. Over the first few years in the US, she worked as a caregiver at Wesley Homes. Her first profession was as a lawyer but her degree didn’t permit her to practice in the US. Becoming an advocate with FIN allowed her to represent people again while also building food connections for her community.
“Luckily I found that Chinese and Hispanic produce is very similar to Congolese. I shop there for vegetables like cassava, okra, and greens.”
Madeleine’s hopes for the Congolese community in King County are the same as her hopes for her own family. In her own words... “I want people to have the best chance at life. And for us, that starts with things like healthcare and jobs but always ends with food and family.”
“Unlike what I see in the Latino and Somali communities, the Congolese community here is small and very spread out. We sometimes struggle to connect with each other.”