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
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.
[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!
Startup Q&A: Swahili Food Seattle
Q: Tell us about your business?I cater East African food across King County communities. I cater small occasions, birthdays, graduations, small parties and individual meal orders. The African community loves my food because it meets their cultural appetite and is affordable. I’ve found there is a lot of interest in Kenyan cuisine outside the African community as well and I always enjoy meeting people who want to try African foods.
Q: How did you get the idea for your business? What inspired you to start this business?I saw that many Kenyans were getting very busy and did not have time to cook traditional meals. I worked in the food industry back in Kenya and have always loved to cook, I realized I could fill that need. I was number four in a family of twelve, I started cooking at a young age and everyone in my family loved my food. When I came to America, I saw that many Kenyans were busy and did not have time to cook traditional meals. The idea to start a catering business came very easily to me and I did not enjoy any other kind of job when I came to America. When I talked to family and people who knew me back in Kenya, they would always tell me I needed to start a Kenyan food business.
Q: What makes you different from other types of African restaurants and caterers?[caption id="attachment_1658" align="alignright" width="300"] Chapati, Samosas, and Goat Stew[/caption] My recipes are based on traditional Kenyan dishes but I improvise changes that give them a local Seattle flavor as well. I learned to cook from generations of family traditions and have carried these traditions with me to America. My cooking is made from organic produce and fresh spices from Africa’s spice capital of Zanzibar – you will not be able to have only one taste. I also cater to special needs and my clients’ timeline – responding to calls and making deliveries outside normal business hours
Q: What do you like best about your work?Flexibility, the joy of seeing people appreciate my food and services, I enjoy interacting with people and sharing the experience and food from my culture. It is always fun to meet people who have visited Kenya and for those who can’t make it all the way to Africa, I am pleased to bring my culture to them.
Q: What is your business’ biggest challenge?I am trying to grow my business so I can have my own commercial kitchen. I don’t want to run a restaurant but instead to provide catering services and supply local restaurants and grocery stores with fresh Kenyan food. In order to do this, I need capital to buy equipment and, eventually rent a large space to work from. I am challenged by financial resources to grow my business, hire staff, and expand my business ideas. For now, I am focusing on building my catering business and marketing to new customers.
Q: What is something people might be surprised to learn about you or your business?That I never went to school to learn cooking skills, they can’t understand how I taught myself to cook such tasty food.
Q: What types of services or programs have been helpful?I’m telling you, I learned something I could not have imagined with I joined FIN. I knew that I could own a business but not necessarily how to do it. For instance, I learned how to operate in a commercial kitchen and how to scale recipes for large orders. Before this I cooked by feel and taste but I needed to learn how to measure and create consistency between dishes. My next adventure will be to improve my marketing skills. [caption id="attachment_1663" align="alignleft" width="288"] Benson cooking from the FIN booth at the Federal Way Farmers Market[/caption] Q: What would you say to other small food business owners thinking of working with FIN? That FIN is the ultimate program for people like me with a passion for food business. I would encourage other immigrants to join FIN and be intentional about taking the advantage of available resources, FIN has resources that can meet their every food business need, their financial support is very practical, I can’t believe they paid my public health permit, there is nowhere else you can find this kind of support, FIN has treated me like a parent treats and cares about a child, it is a unique program if you are committed to the process. I would encourage them to be very persistent to the process.
Connect with Benson to make an order or volunteer.
P.S. Benson would love help with creating marketing materials.
We are excited to host the 2nd Annual FIN Resource Fair May 12th from 5:30-8pm at Foster High School. This year we will be bringing together resources for both entrepreneurs and community members. Folks can get help starting a food business, finding a job in the food industry, or taking food and nutrition classes. More than 20 resource providers will be participating. We will have fun children’s activities and feature food from the FIN entrepreneurs. Join us in celebrating the diversity of South King County through food! If you are interested in coming or want to invite others, visit us on Facebook.
FIN is excited to support the launch of four new local caterers cooking out of our shared commercial kitchen in Kent. The catering businesses each received a small start-up grant and reduced rent fees and are now fully licensed and insured caterers. FIN partner, Project Feast, is a core tenant, training culinary apprentices who operate the lunch cafe, Cafe Ubuntu. FIN is working closely with partners Ventures, StartZone and Center for Inclusive Entrepreneurship to ensure each entrepreneur is matched with a business coach, receives ongoing training and identifies market opportunities such as catering events, farmers markets, and festivals. The seven entrepreneurs are operating under 4 catering businesses and will be cooking up cuisines from around the world. Swahili Seattle Food, Soozveen, Rekebot Coffee House and Mian Dian cater dishes and flavors from Kenya, Iraq, Ethiopia and China. Many thanks for the support from Seattle Foundation, Communities of Opportunity, Port of Seattle, and City of Kent. Their generous support has helped FIN and partners to build out the commercial kitchen and ensure the entrepreneurs and apprentices have the support services needed. And a special thank you to Project Feast for spending the many hours managing the remodeling project! If you have a catering or special event coming up, please give a FIN entrepreneur a call!
Sheelan Shamdeen, FIN Program AssistantSheelan Shamdeen, a Kurdish-Iraqi refugee, began working with FIN as a graduate of Project Feast’s Apprenticeship Program. Also a client of StartZone at Highline College, she and her sister found support in planning their own Iraqi catering company - Soozveen. But catering is only a small part of her story. In fact, Sheelan looks at their catering company as tool to bridge her two identities as a Kursdish-Iraqi refugee and an American citizen – food is a platform for dialogue she says. “We had 24 hours to leave and weren’t sure where we were going.” Sheelan and her family fled Iraq in 1996 when Saddam Hussein announced anyone associated with the UN would be publicly hanged. They, along with countless others, spent 3 nights under a tent with no passports - their only keepsake from home a teddy bear her sister had saved. Although they were safe once they reached Turkey, they had a long unknown journey ahead of them. Arriving in Guam, many families squeezed into tight living quarters for months while official paperwork was filed to enter the US with green cards. Twenty years later Sheelan, her mother, and seven siblings are all US citizens. Many of those years have been spent teaching English to other immigrants and refugees at Highline College. Although she remembers every detail of her life in Iraq, she also embraces American culture and encourages newcomers to do the same. “Many refugees feel this is only temporary – that this is not their home. But this is the place that helped my family survive and I believe I have two homes now.” To her, she is truly accepted in America as a human being - not a Muslim or an Iraqi but as a person. Despite the things sometimes said in media and politics, she feels like she belongs here. Sheelan doesn’t want any immigrant to lose their language or culture but believes it is important to also feel at home here. In America it is possible to celebrate both patriotism and cultural diversity in the same breath. Sharing Iraqi food with people is just one way that she can start conversations about cultural identity. Over two years have passed since Sheelan was first introduced to FIN. She was part of the first group of Community Food Advocates, recently joined the first cohort FIN Entrepreneurs and, in September 2016, took a staff position as FIN’s Program Assistant. Being a refugee means Sheelan knows what it feels like to start something from nothing. She brings compassion into her work and is quick to respond in a moment of need. All she asks of those around her is to be open minded. Sheelan's advice to all people: “Ask questions before assuming you know someone’s story. Keep learning –there are so many free resources out there. And if you can’t find anything to learn then start a conversation with someone new.”
by Allison Mountjoy January 9, 2017, 10:30AM PST
Attention community members interested in starting a food business working at a food business! FIN is kicking off a series of local food business tours. Participants will get an inside look at local businesses and commercial spaces, our first being the Renton Farmers Market. Want to sell at a farmer's market? Join us for a FREE tour of the Renton Farmers Market. Key vendors will share stories and advice before a market tour. Tour guests will be have time to explore the market and debrief with the tour guide while sharing snacks. Space is limited, so reserve a spot today:
- Send a text to 206-370-0045
- Include the word "RENTON" and your name.
The Community Engagement Work Group is getting ready to launch a year-long series of food business tours. Starting in August, one tour will be held during the last week of every month. The goal is to get an inside look at local businesses for community members interested in starting a food business or working for one. Stay tuned for event details.