Food Innovation Network assists aspiring entrepreneurs bite by bite

The Food Innovation Network hosted its first Community Kitchen event in January, where FIN advocates and several aspiring entrepreneurs taught guests how to make a dish. The menu featured traditional dishes from Ethiopia, Iraq, Mexico, Somalia, China, Kenya and America. From left are Elaine Brand, Amanda Lin, Sheelan Shamdeen, Shamdeen’s niece, Zozan Shamdeen, Lidia Taddla and Gladis Clemente. FIN is collaborating with the city of SeaTac to offer more Community Kitchen events. COURTESY PHOTO

By Theresa Lloyd

For the Reporter

In stories, there are magical wizards and supernatural forces that save the day when society finds itself in trouble. But in reality, heroes come in the form of regular people with an intrinsic ability to inspire others and pool resources together for problem solving.

In South King County, there lies an intricate collaboration of community advocate leaders and partner organizations dedicated to supporting the success of others. They are the Food Innovation Network (FIN).

A productive food industry may equate to an equally robust and culturally diverse local economy. FIN’s mission is to nurture this pathway of growth by connecting successful business owners with those seeking resources in the food industry, according to Kara Martin, FIN program director.

FIN enhances the local food system by providing resources to aspiring immigrants, refugees and low-income individuals hoping to break ground in the restaurant industry. Doing so cultivates a higher quality of life for individuals, and it raises the community to a greater standard of success and inclusiveness.

“Through food, FIN and partners work to address the health and economic disparities in the community,” Martin said. “We also see food as a way people can connect across cultures and build community.”

Budding entrepreneurs, talented chefs and would-be restaurateurs find an array of help within the confines of FIN’s reach. Culinary training, employment skills, business planning, marketing advice, licensing help and financial resources are available for those brave enough to step forward and ask.

Success doesn’t come quickly, but Martin said she finds working with community advocates to be rewarding. A genuine sense of fellowship resonates throughout FIN.

“The camaraderie that has developed is pretty incredible. There’s lots of cross-cultural learning,” Martin said. “The advocates led a community kitchen event in January in which they each brought a recipe to the event and taught others how to cook the dish. It was a very empowering experience.”

Personal stories and advocate spotlights can be found on the FIN website, foodinnovationnetwork.org, and bring both the trials and triumphs of each FIN project to life.

For example, four new catering businesses received public health permits on April 1, thanks to the guidance of FIN advocates during the process. Those businesses aren’t characters in a reality show scripted for viewing pleasure. They are represented by seven real life individuals with goals, dreams and families.

Current FIN projects include a commercial kitchen in Kent, two kitchens at the Matt Griffin YMCA, two separate produce stands and community engagement activities, such as the annual Resource Fair. These projects are the manifestation of FIN’s goals to increase access to healthy food and stabilize community-wide pathways to success.

For more information about the services FIN offers or to get help starting a business, visit their website or call 206-573-0218.