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New & Next: A Launchpad for Restaurateurs


Comal Heritage Food Incubator trains and employs a local workforce to provide Globeville with authentic Latin cuisine and culture.
Comal Heritage Food Incubator is a restaurant with a mission: to provide economic opportunity and technical training to the residents of the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods. Comal is Focus Points Family Resource Center's first social enterprise. It is housed in the Focus Points Training and Business Center, which implements the economic and workforce development arm of the resource center.

Located at TAXI by Zeppelin Development, the incubator employs cohorts of entrepreneurs from the local neighborhoods who want to learn the ins and outs of the restaurant industry in order to open their own businesses. Participants undergo eight months of training to learn soft, technical and business skills before graduating and launching their own businesses. Training happens concurrently with service in the restaurant, so entrepreneurs are able to apply techniques learned in the adjacent classroom to the restaurant during their lunch service.

Comal Heritage Food Incubator was created based on a need defined by the low-income communities of north Denver. "With the boom in development in the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods, many of the longtime residents are facing displacement due to rising rents and property taxes," says Mickey Zeppelin, founder of the TAXI community and principal at Zeppelin Development. "The goal of Focus Points is to provide these low-income families with the economic stability to stay in their communities, making them an ideal partner for social endeavors."

Comal takes action on this goal with the "learning while earning" philosophy. As participants undergo skill development, they are also working in the restaurant and earning 60 percent of the gross income.

The Comal concept aims to not only provide training and economic opportunity, but to sustain and celebrate the cultural traditions of the neighborhoods' residents. "In the spirit of integration, Comal will help bridge the gap between neighborhoods that are literally adjacent to each other but worlds apart," says Slavica Park, director of economic and workforce development at Focus Points. "Since food transcends all barriers in bringing people together, we hope to begin to shift the dynamic, where the arriving community of immigrants can showcase the gifts that they are bringing to the receiving community."

The rotating menu is curated and prepared by culinary entrepreneurs, and features cuisine from Mexico, El Salvador and Peru. Participants take their recipes that have been passed down for several generations and learn how to craft a commercial meal, even scaling it to serve hundreds of people at catering events. Zeppelin Development and Focus Points plan to utilize the space to offer a more comprehensive cultural experience. Opening the classroom and restaurant to the public, Comal will offer classes on cooking, dancing and Spanish.

"The Comal model is exemplary of how economically sustainable partnerships can be vehicles to social change," Kyle Zeppelin, principal of Zeppelin Development. "By giving Focus Points the space to operate, we also provide an important new amenity to TAXI by bringing in the rich heritage found in the surrounding neighborhoods."

The current cohort employs six women with dreams that range from bakeries to food trucks to coffee shops. These women have been an integral part of the design process for Comal, representing the community voice throughout its evolution. The group also selected the name Comal, which translates to a traditional griddle used to cook tortillas in Mexico and Central America. Historically, the clay comal was handed down from mother to daughter, symbolizing the strong influence of food culture across generations of Latin American women.

Comal offers authentic Latin American heritage food for catering events and lunch service, Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The restaurant is located in TAXI I, 3455 Ringsby Ct., #105, in Denver. Catering services inquiries can be submitted to comal@focuspoints.org.

Focus Points is looking for new participants to fill our second cohort in April. If you or someone you know would like to work in Comal and launch a culinary business, please reach out to Whitney Bradford at whitney@focuspoints.org.

Whitney Bradford is economic and workforce development coordinator at Focus Points Family Resource Center.
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