La Cocina VA and Capital One are teaming up to help entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds launch culinary startups
This story was originally shared on Capital One.
Inside the walls of her kitchen at her childhood home in Guatemala, Evelyn Klohr, the founder of a Washington, D.C.-area bakery called Kakeshionista, was taught a lesson that remains central to her business operations today.
"Baking cakes gave me the confidence to believe in my own brand and now I put my heart into giving my customers something they'll enjoy eating," Klohr said.
While driven to launch her own baking business, pursuing a dream in the culinary arts was economically challenging for Klohr. In the United States, culinary schools can open doors to future careers, but the cost of entry can be upwards of $36,000 a year.
Through a friend, Klohr learned about La Cocina VA, a nonprofit dedicated to providing job training and entrepreneurship development services at a training facility in the Washington, D.C-area.
La Cocina VA's, which translates to "the kitchen" in Spanish, offers its Bilingual Culinary Training program to prepare low-and moderate-income individuals from diverse backgrounds to launch careers in the food industry.
That program gave Klohr the ability to fully immerse herself in the baking industry within a professional kitchen facility and receive training in an array of subjects including culinary skills, food safety, career development and English language classes.
Photo courtesy of Capital One
The organization also offers participants the opportunity to enroll in its Culinary Small Business Incubator, a 9-week training course that teaches participants to create and scale their own food-based startups.
During that program, LA Cocina VA provides participants with support for developing the internal operations of their businesses and provides a shared kitchen for community members to rent space at affordable rates.
Patricia Funegra, who founded La Cocina VA in 2014, said that helping people like Klohr is exactly why she wanted to create the incubator.
"I have firsthand experience of the difficulties of being an immigrant and person of color in America," said Funegra. "At the same time, I also know the enormous opportunities that exist here to improve people's lives."
With the help of funding from Capital One, the center has been able to support 160 participants since opening with roughly 85% of graduates being hired for jobs in the food industry upon completion.
La Cocina VA also received support from Capital One's Community Finance team as it provided financing for the construction of Gilliam Place, an affordable housing unit in which La Cocina VA moved its operations into in 2020.
After moving into Gilliam Place, Funegra launched the Zero Barriers Training and Entrepreneurship Center, a hub for startup founders that includes a kitchen incubator and a community cafe to provide workforce development opportunities for residents.
That support comes as part of the Capital One Impact Initiative, a multi-million dollar commitment to support growth in underserved communities and advance socioeconomic mobility by closing gaps in equity and opportunity.
La Cocina VA students also worked alongside Capital One Cafe ambassadors to learn skills in management and personal finance.
Photo courtesy of Capital One
"The COVID-19 pandemic forced entrepreneurs, especially people of color and immigrants, to shift their entire business models just to survive," said Emilia Lopez, the Senior Vice President of US Card Customer Resiliency, who serves on La Cocina VA's Board of Directors. "As a La Cocina VA board member, I am proud of the commitment and support Capital One provides La Cocina VA and thankful for their effort this past year to help entrepreneurs quickly adapt their businesses to support alternative dining options."
La Cocina VA is also in constant communication with employers, partners, hotels and restaurants to make them aware of their pipeline of graduates.
"La Cocina VA taught me not just the physical work that goes into baking and cooking but also how to have a good understanding to mentally and financially launch my business," said Klohr. "They're helping me make those connections and I know they'll always have my back."