Coronavirus: Shelter-in-place has start-up restaurants looking for help in San Francisco's La Cocina

ByDion Lim and Ken Miguel KGO logo
Saturday, May 2, 2020
Coronavirus: Start-up restaurants find help in SF's La Cocina
San Francisco's food scene has been starved by the shelter-in-place order. For most of those small businesses that were just getting started, their chance of survival is slim. One nonprofit is hoping you'll help.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco's food scene has been starved by the shelter-in-place order that has forced many restaurants to close, or limit their menu to just take out items. For most of those small businesses that were just getting started, their chance of survival is slim. One Bay Area nonprofit is looking for a tasty way you might be able to keep some of these businesses open.

Inside the kitchen of La Cocina SF in the city's Mission District they are hard at processing food orders. Each item carefully crafted by a local restaurant entrepreneur like Reyna Maldonado of La Guerrera's Kitchen in Oakland.

"We are providing both meat options and vegan options of tamales," said Maldonado.

La Cocina is a nonprofit that specializes in helping minorities and women get started in the food business.

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Since 2005 they have helped 70 active businesses get started.

"There are 33 brick and mortar locations operated by La Cocina graduates, all but one owned by a woman, all but one by a person of color that started out low income in the program," said La Cocina Program Director, Geetika Agrawal.

When the city of San Francisco ordered residents to shelter, restaurants had two choices, close their doors, or offer take-out. For many those orders aren't enough to keep the doors open, let alone pay people to work.

"I mean it's just a bloodbath, as far as the industry goes," said Agrawal, "It's been really hard to watch how quickly businesses built so carefully, with such hard work, over 10, 15 years have been, just erased."

Realizing that how much these businesses rely on the income they make, La Cocina came up with a plan to help them pay their bills. It created an emergency fund to help pay bills and provides services to help navigate loans and grants. They've also created community food boxes that change every week and contain all kinds of handmade eats and treats, chicken flautas, cake pops, momos, pozole, popcorn and tamales.

"We are really trying to represent a mix of entrepreneurs, from every stage of our program, every type of cuisine," said Agrawal.

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The proceeds from both the emergency fund and the food boxes is dispersed to La Cocina's businesses.

"They are able to provide some funds for our family, it helps us pay our personal bills, some business expenses," said Maldonado.

A limited number of food boxes go up for sale every Saturday morning, and picked up the following Friday at La Cocina. There are veggie and omnivore boxes available, each selling for $80 to $150. Each box contains 10 items that can be frozen or served right away.

The community food boxes have been selling out, much to the joy of the locals who have been snapping them up.

"It's great! A lot of places we already went to before and now we just still get the same food," said one customer.

"It's just cool to kind of support stuff, and also get yummy delicious food," said another customer.

If you'd like to purchase a community food box, or contribute to La Cocina's emergency click here to help.

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