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Spice Kitchen Brings Refugee-Prepared Food to U’s Farmers Market

Emily Anderson

Spice Kitchen Incubator utilizes the passion and power of food to provide refugees in Salt Lake City with the resources necessary to start their own businesses. Now, one of the project’s businesses has become a staple of the University of Utah’s farmer’s market, bringing international fare to students.

Along with receiving access to an affordable kitchen space with the tools and training needed to make an idea reality, Spice Kitchen Incubator helps refugees in the community with any marketing, logistics or finance questions regarding the creation and maintenance of a food business. Spice Kitchen, as an undertaking of the International Rescue Committee, places its focus primarily on bringing refugees together with other members of the community who share a common interest in food and entrepreneurship.

Many refugees who come to the United States have prior experience preparing food in their home countries, but aren’t sure how to navigate starting a business in a foreign environment. Spice Kitchen aims to give refugees the platform to introduce their culture to their neighbors while getting to know the business and financial aspect of showcasing and marketing their product to the Salt Lake Valley.

Karine Mnatsakanyan, an Armenian woman who moved to Utah in 2011, has taken her skills and culture and turned it into a transportable business. Previously having lived in Russia, her business is inspired by kiosks that served commuters at metro stations. Spudnik, Mnatsakanyan’s business, sells hot potatoes that combine traditional Eastern European flavors with toppings from America. Mnatsakanyan sells these potatoes at the U’s farmers market.

She admitted that while starting a business looked easy in the beginning, it took a lot of work. With the help of Spice Kitchen she was able to work out a marketing strategy and plan that is necessary for success.

“I would never ever do it by myself without [the] Spice team,” Mnatsakanyan said. “I was offered to start from attending farmer’s market, as in my point of view [because] this is the only way to let people know who you are and what you sell.”

Emily Leavens is a U student in communication and gender studies who works as a marketing volunteer for the IRC. She spends her time there developing promotional materials, market research and community outreach. Another focus of the Spice Kitchen, she said, is to improve the financial conditions of its refugees as well as other low-income families in Salt Lake City.

To showcase the variety of Spice Kitchen’s businesses, it started the “Spice to Go” program. Its goal is to introduce the community to a variety of different foods.

“Spice to Go is a hot meal pickup service that features a different chef each week,” Leavens said. “It aims to provide and assemble diverse food for the Salt Lake community. There’s always a vegetarian and gluten free option as well.”

Laan Na Thai, a restaurant serving Thai food across the street from Pioneer Park, is a graduate of the Spice Kitchen program. She hopes to see Spice Kitchen continue to expand in different areas.

“I would love to see some events hosted by Spice Kitchen,” Leavens said. “Themed dinner events featuring the entrepreneurs food and celebrating their country’s culture could be a great addition to the program.”

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    EmmaSep 19, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    I found the Facebook page! Events there:

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    EmmaSep 19, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    Great program. Links? I’d love to learn more about “Spice to Go” (can people sign up, or?)