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Elizabeth Bibiano, owner of vegan New Mexican restaurant Vegos, can’t say enough about her time at Street Food Institute.
“The access and resources, the plethora of knowledge — wow, holy cow,” Bibiano said.
And soon, more New Mexican foodies will be able to access those resources as Street Food Institute breaks ground on its new facility, Central Barelas Kitchen. The new building will triple its size.
When Bibiano went through the program, she said there were only a handful of other students. Now, Street Food Institute leaders said they hope it will be able to support 20 or more hopeful restaurateurs after it moves out of the Central New Mexico Community College space it currently uses.
The nonprofit, which provides business and culinary training to New Mexicans looking to open food businesses — ranging from food trucks, catering businesses, brick-and-mortar stores and wholesale businesses — celebrated the groundbreaking of its new facility on Friday. The organization has been training food-loving students since it opened in 2014.
The new 11,000-square-foot building, Barelas Central Kitchen, is scheduled to open in summer 2023.
The two-story building, which is a collaboration between Street Food Institute and nonprofit Homewise, will feature a commissary kitchen, culinary classroom, as well as office space and studios for local artists. Johanna Gilligan, senior director of community development at Homewise, described the space as an “ecosystem focused on helping small businesses.”
“This just makes my heart burst,” said Frossene King, an alum of the program and owner of wholesale bakery Kalamata 505, who spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony and served baked goods.
Other alums, including the respective owners of Hippie Dayz Brew and Juicy J’s food truck, were in attendance at the event.
Jacob Chavez, a recent graduate from the program and owner of Juicy J’s, said that Street Food Institute helped him with everything from filling out health permits to transforming the landscaping truck his dad bought into a mobile juice bar. He opened his food truck just last month.
“They’ve helped me really along the way,” Chavez said.
Tina Garcia-Shams, executive director of Street Food Institute, told the Journal that watching food entrepreneurs grow throughout Street Food Institute’s 12-month program is like being a parent.
“It’s like, you know, you watch them slowly take those first steps. And they’re nervous and they’re scared and they’re not sure,” Garcia-Shams said. “But they start to get that confidence and you see their confidence grow. And you see when somebody tastes their food and tells them how great it is, the pride when that happens.”
Garcia-Shams has been working at Street Food Institute since 2017. She said the new facility should increase the number of prospective business owners the program can support.
“There’s only so many businesses they can fit in the current space,” Bibiano said. “… They’ll fill those seats like crazy.”
The program has been housed at CNM since 2017, although the partnership between CNM and Street Food Institute goes back much further. Even though the program collaborates with CNM’s culinary department, Street Food Institute is open to everyone, whether or not they are CNM students.
The curriculum at Street Food Institute has three phases: a theory phase, where students learn about running a business; a practical phase, where they develop recipes and hone their cooking skills in the kitchen; and an internship phase where students cut their teeth in local kitchens.
Karla Moore, owner of Simply Sinful Donuts, started taking courses at Street Food Institute in 2021. She found out about the program when she heard Tania Parillo, owner of Tania’s Tasty Kitchen and alum of Street Food Institute, talking about the institute on a podcast.
“Street Food has been like a godsend to me,” Moore said. “Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to get my brick-and-mortar.”
Moore opened her donut shop on Gold and Third last November. She said that when she has business questions, she still calls up Garcia-Shams.
“We’re just a little organization, but I hope that we have a giant impact,” Garcia-Shams said.
The new building is located at 1411 4th SW, across the street from Barelas Coffee House. The space has a history in food production — it used to be a produce bay.
“We wanted to keep that thread alive,” Gilligan said.
Homewise did a survey of Barelas in 2020 and found that a third of the respondents wanted more job training programs in the area. Garcia-Shams said she hopes that the space will be a gathering space for both students at the institute and Barelas community members.
“It’s not just a building to me — to us,” Garcia-Shams said at the event. “It’s a home. It’s going to be our home.”