Local organization makes refugees' dreams happen



    (KUTV) Exotic foods and globally inspired restaurants are a huge trend in Utah and across the nation. {}People describe themselves as "foodies" and revel in new foods and new experiences to share on social media.{} A local nonprofit is seizing the "foodie" momentum, hoping to create new businesses and success with the trend.The "SPICE Kitchen Incubator” is making the American dream a reality for local refugees. Utah has a population of 50,000 refugees from dozens of countries. Many come to the state with nothing but the shirt on their backs and hope to one day find success and a new life. Some come to the United States with a needed skill set, a vast knowledge of their native farming and culinary practices. SPICE Kitchen Incubator is working to take their skills and create new entrepreneurs. SPICE stands for "Supporting the Pursuit of Innovative Culinary Entrepreneurs.” {}The program has been underway for about 18 months, modeled after a similar program in California "La Cocina." The program has been operating on seed money from American Express out of temporary locations and kitchens. Wednesday is a new day and a new beginning. The SPICE kitchen opened Wednesday just off 2100 South in Salt Lake. The newly purchased commercial kitchen and appliances will house multiple businesses, cooking around the clock if needed. The kitchen is a place refugees can hone in their skills, find confidence in the kitchen and learn the business. The first three months of the program is spent in the classroom, learning food safety practices and the difficult business end. After six months, each new chef goes into the incubation period and soft launch where they sell their products at local fairs and farmers markets. Once they are on solid ground, they start paying rent for the kitchen and launching their businesses with restaurants, catering and packaged products sold to stores. Cathy Tshilombo-Lokemba lives in Tooele, originally from Africa.{} Her name doesn't roll of the English speaking tongue very easily, so she goes my "Mama Africa."{} Mama Africa is a star pupil in the SPICE Kitchen.{} She is one of a dozen in the program currently with another 28 people ready to start as soon as there is room. Volunteers who help run the program through the International Rescue Comittee say you'll never meet a group of more dedicated and hardworking people. "They put in an immense amount of work to make sure their dreams become a reality," explains Natalie El-Deiry. El-Deiry works with the entrepreneurs in classes and individually to develop specific products and game plans.Mama Africa says that "it was hard to get customers and attention." SPICE changed that. Her "Pili Pili" sauce she bottles is now in stores in several states and she has requests around the world. She bottled what she calls "the hottest hot sauce in the world." It's a favorite at SPICE and a recipe anyone at home can make. You can find her crazy hot sauce at Caputo's Deli in Salt Lake.Mama Africa is not alone in her success. Lucy Thiangliang started rolling sushi a few years ago, renting space from midnight to 3 a.m. at a local grocery store. With the help of the new incubator, Lucy is sleeping again and selling her sushi in 26 stores.{} When she was on her own, she only had four stores on board. Her biggest help hasn't been on how to roll sushi or recipes but, she says "whenever I need something I just go to them and ask is this ok?{} Or is this how you do it in America?" Lucy is selling the sushi from Salt Lake to St. George. You can find it at Smith's, Dan's, Fresh Market and several other locations.El-Deiry says the program is making dreams come true. "Everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue their dreams and that's our job to make sure they have the proper channels to do that. It's truly living the American dream," El-Deiry says.{}{}{}{}{}{}{} {}The SPICE program is supported through big local businesses trying to give back to the community. Salt Lake County is involved too, and they say the program is about to expand.{} Low income and underprivileged individuals with a flair for cooking and no means to start a business can find help as well. For more information, click here._____

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