Three mobile-food business owners found themselves holding some pretty big checks at the end of the night on Friday, May 20, at the Mi Casa Resource Center. They were the winners of Taste of La Receta, a competition held by La Receta, a mobile-food accelerator program run by Mi Casa.
La Receta was founded as a branch of the forty-year-old Mi Casa (which helps disadvantaged families achieve economic self-sufficiency), with a goal of teaching budding entrepreneurs how to navigate city regulations and licensing, optimize their menus and build a brand. Participants in the program pay $250 (a $50 application fee, plus $200 for the class, though financial assistance is available) for three months of instruction on how to run a food truck or cart, catering business or food production company. La Receta's program also includes mentoring from prominent Denver chefs and business owners, including Lorena Cantarovici, chef/owner of Maria Empanada, and Marjorie Silva, founder of Azucar Bakery.
At the end of the first La Receta cohort, which launched in February, more than twenty students were awarded certificates. And then they got to compete for a total of $8,500 in prize money to put toward growing their businesses.
Mi Casa and La Receta operate out of the Salazar Center for Family Prosperity at 345 South Grove Street, where graduates of the accelerator program set up food-service displays inside a spacious banquet hall. Selections were as diverse as they were delicious, ranging from Turkish pastries to Ethiopian sauces to Mexican specialties. The top prize of $5,000 went to Adrian Bonilla, owner of Taco Block, which currently operates as a food truck, but Bonilla has been trying to open a semi-permanent kiosk in the Athmar Park neighborhood that he built from a salvaged shipping container. The Taco Block kiosk was able to open for business at a previous location, but when Bonilla moved it a block north and expanded the size of the shipping container, he was unable to get zoning approval (though he notes that he was approved by the health and fire departments).
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Second place, a $2,500 check, went to April Yiadom, who is in the process of launching BBQ N’ Kenya, a company specializing in the cuisine of the East African nation. Yiadom served chapati (Kenyan flatbread) with Swahili pilau (a rice dish) and barbecued goat cooked with imported Kenyan spices.
Also in the top three was Rosalia Avila, owner of La Sirena Gitana, who earned $1,000 to put toward building her business. Avila served chicken in mole poblano, raspberry-chipotle meatballs and vegetarian tacos with nopales, grilled onions and corn.
Mayor Michael Hancock spoke at the event, praising La Receta and Mi Casa for its mission of helping to build small businesses and support Denver families. Bonilla, whose Taco Block kiosk is currently located — but not running — in a private parking lot across from Athmar Park, took the opportunity to present the mayor with a letter detailing the zoning issues he has dealt with over the past two years while trying to get his food-service operation up and running. "All I am asking for is to take a look at my case, and if you can do something for me and my family, we would be very grateful to you," Bonilla wrote in his letter. "The community at Athmar Park have been advocating for us with our City Councils and they want us to be open."