VOL. 132 | NO. 236 | Wednesday, November 29, 2017
By Andy Meek
Ibtisam Salih is closer than ever to realizing her dream of opening a restaurant in the city that serves the Sudanese cuisine of her native country. She’s been preparing food at Caritas Village in Binghampton for several years now, and she’s started operating a catering venture – Ibti’s Soup and Catering. What she’s working toward, though, is a restaurant of her own. She loves to cook. She loathes the idea of recipes. She prepares her dishes by what feels right.
Helping her channel that passion for food and cooking is Kaleidoscope Kitchen. It’s a new program of the Binghampton Development Corp. that provides two main services – a commercial kitchen that entrepreneurs like Ibtisam can rent and free small-business counseling.
There’s also an entrepreneur training program, a structured 6-month course of culinary and business basics that will start in January.
Ibtisam Salih prepares chicken shawarma in pita for the Binghampton International Festival. Salih has a catering business but wants to open her own restaurant. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
The big picture ambition of the kitchen is for it to offer food-skills training, entrepreneurship development and other support so minority participants get the skills and knowledge they need to start careers in the food industry.
“I love to cook, and (Kaleidoscope Kitchen) is helping me accomplish opening my restaurant, because that’s my dream,” Salih said, not without a bit of laughter and good humor. “This program has connected me with the media. Now I’m very famous!” (“I’m sorry,” she laughs.)
“They help me with pricing. They help me a lot. When will I open my restaurant? If I have the money – tomorrow! I’m ready.”
She’s exactly the kind of entrepreneur Kaleidoscope Kitchen is meant to help, kitchen program manager Olivia Haslop says. Salih and her family resettled in Memphis in 1999 to escape threats from a hostile government in Sudan. She accrued a bit of neighborhood renown for things like her soups while running the kitchen at Caritas Village.
The popularity of her soups inspired her to launch Ibti’s Soup and Catering, and she also caters traditional Sudanese dishes as well as other cuisine.
“The initiative seeks to use food as a platform for economic vitality,” Haslop says. “We heard a lot of people in the neighborhood were interested in starting food businesses, and we also have a significant refugee and immigrant population in Binghampton.”
The overall Kaleidoscope Kitchen program tries to accomplish four goals.
First is offering access to affordable kitchen space, which is rented out to neighborhood residents at $12 an hour and to non-residents at $15 an hour.
The second thing is training.
“Food is really complex,” Haslop says. “There’s a lot of rules and regulations around it. Getting the right permits. And it changes based on – am I selling outside? Am I catering? Am I packaging? And you just imagine, if English is your second language, that can make it all the more overwhelming.”
That’s where the structured training program comes in.
On the food entrepreneur training program, Kaleidoscope is working with Chef Eli at Caritas Village on culinary curriculum and with the local EPIcenter organization on the business curriculum.
Third, Kaleidoscope wants to make money, so it hosts catering. People can call up Kaleidoscope Kitchen, and they’ll assign the job to a caterer and help the entrepreneur carry it out. It’s a way for them to make money and get experience so that one day they can do this on their own.
Fourth, the program offers what Haslop describes as general free consulting. All kinds of questions and needs arise with these entrepreneurs that could encompass anything from filing a new business permit to how to set up a bank account for a business.
“We try to offer a smorgasbord of whatever a minority entrepreneur might need,” Haslop says.