La Cocina has incubated 130 businesses, graduated nearly 60 entrepreneurs and supported the launch of 30+ brick-and-mortar locations throughout the Bay Area. During the pandemic, 41 entrepreneurs were participating in our incubator program, and another 31 graduates sought La Cocina’s support.
All La Cocina participants are low- or very-low income when they enter the program. As they launch their businesses, these entrepreneurs employ other low- and moderate-income individuals. These employees typically come from the business owner’s country of origin as opposed to where the business is located. Bini’s Kitchen, run by Binita Pradhan, who immigrated from Nepal, has employed up to 24 other low- and moderate-income individuals who are Tibetan and Nepalese immigrants and refugees.
While many incubators and accelerators prioritize curriculum completion and business launch, La Cocina takes the long road. Systemic racism and gender and income inequality must be addressed with deep investment in those who’ve been excluded from the formal economy. Our program is unique in that it doesn’t end with business launch, but continues to serve graduates to ensure economic sustainability. And we're proud that there are different ways for alumni to interact with our program and many different paths businesses can take. La Cocina is an ecosystem builder, working with businesses, building a community, creating an opportunity pipeline, and cultivating female leadership that returns to the organization.
We encourage you to learn more about these businesses — the best way is to taste their delicious food. Below is a list of active businesses born out of La Cocina's incubator program.
Maafé (MAH-fay), a ground-nut stew, was the last dish Nafy Flatley would eat before leaving Dakar, Senegal, and moving to California to attend college. After graduating from UC Berkeley and then University of San Francisco, Nafy landed a marketing job in Silicon Valley. But the 2008 recession would have her yearning for a career where she could have more ownership of her time and prioritize her family.
Nafy returned to her roots (literally), making and selling homemade pressed juices and snacks from the roots, leaves, and fruit of the Baobab tree, an essential food of African cuisine. She joined La Cocina in 2015 and launched her business Teranga ("hospitality" in Wolof, the Senegalese national language). Nafy worked out of La Cocina's kitchen, catering events and selling her juices and packaged snacks online and in
La Cocina’s gift boxes.
When the pandemic hit, Nafy's catering jobs ceased, and supplies became harder to come by. La Cocina’s weekly town halls and Learning Circles became places to learn about the constantly changing environment and ways to survive. During these calls, Nafy also bonded with other entrepreneurs over the challenges COVID presented to their businesses and personal lives.
With the support of La Cocina and the community, Nafy’s business survived the pandemic, and she opened her first kiosk at La Cocina's Municipal Marketplace. Nafy has big ideas for Teranga; she wants to hire people from the community, make frozen meals, and cater to schools. She wants to show Senegalese culture and food to people all around the world. Nafy feels she's experiencing an atypical "American dream" — a job that enables her to keep own her schedule, put her family first, and nourish the community. And maafé was the first item on her Marketplace menu.
“My mother always told me this: if you make the food with honesty, and if it comes from your heart, people will know when they’re eating it. If you make your food this way, you’ll always see success.”