La Cocina Entrepreneurs Hit the Streets

Posted on by Mission Community Market in 4505 Meats, Blog, Chaac Mool, HellaVegan Eats, La Cocina, Sugarfoot Grits | Leave a comment

Over the past six years, La Cocina’s Street Food Festival has become a San Francisco staple. The festival features innovative food, education and discussion, and a chance for the SF community to share experience and taste with each other.

At the center of all the flags, festivity, and great-eating are passionate woman. That’s right––along with filling your stomach, the festival is a radical way to support local female entrepreneurs.

La Cocina started in 2005 and is based in the Mission District of San Francisco. The organization provides training, practice-spaces, and support to local food entrepreneurs, focusing on low-income women who want to break into the food industry. Traditionally, working in food can be difficult for those from under-privileged areas, because running a successful food business requires a large overhead cost. And, like so many other industries, being a woman–particularly a woman of color–presents challenges of its own: lower pay and fewer opportunities. Even though San Francisco is the home to many non-male powerhouses creatively running and owning their own business, the public image of a chef is still male.

That’s why La Cocina’s innovative program is so important––it creates space for and amplifies the voices of women who are passionate about food, San Francisco, and their families. La Cocina describes this process, and the content of their program on their website. You can also watch their 6-minute film called “Tameles & Piroshkis: A Journey Stuffed with Love” (but be warned: you might cry). Featured in the video are two of La Cocina’s incubator businesses. Other incubators might be familiar faces to you from MCM––Chaac Mool, Sugarfoot Grits, and HellaVegan Eats are all connected to the La Cocina program.

“[La Cocina] is about the general day to day support,” said Stephanie Fields, owner of Sugarfoot Grits. “During my first outdoor festival they came and stood with me for my health inspection. Health inspections are scary––it’s like Mary Poppins checking the dust under everything. It sounds boring, but that support means a lot.”

What is the festival?

La Cocina’s Street Food Festival is a multi-day celebration of local food vendors and top chefs. This year, the festival will be kicked off on Friday, August 15th, with the new Friday Night Family Meal, which will feature unlimited varieties of fried chicken from 11 different chefs hailing from Seattle, Oakland, Austin, Alabama, and San Francisco.

The main event––a street food festival boasting over 80 vendors––will be hosted on Saturday, August 16th in the Mission District. On Folsom St. between 20th and 26th, the city will be transformed into an urban food paradise. Expect big crowds, big portions, and even bigger smiles.

La Cocina notes on the event page that the most important part of the street fest are the women who “drive and inspire the festival every year and serve food any street, neighborhood, and the whole Bay Area should be proud of. By serving food, they serve the community, and continue to make the Bay Area’s foodscape one of the most vibrant and diverse communities out there.”

Lastly, the La Cocina community is providing a platform to talk about food with the La Cocina Food & Entrepreneurship Conference on Sunday, Autust 17th. The conference includes conversations about fair prices for ethnic food, food manufacturing, how to use food to bring communities together, and interactive workshops! To be part of the conversation, buy a ticket online. Don’t worry––if you want to go but don’t think you can afford it, La Cocina is funding scholarships.

What should I eat?

As much as you possibly can! Make sure to visit MCM’s own HellaVegan Eats, who will be serving potsticker burritos–a sweet and sticky meal packed with rice, vegetables, potsticker skin and wrapped in a tortilla–”chicken” and waffle mini bites, and their incredible strawberry-watermelon-basil aqua fresca (seriously, how does such complex flavor come from water?!). HellaVegan describes their food as a “multi-cultural explosion of flavor,” and their dishes always deliver color and taste. You’ve seen them every Thursday this summer, handing out their hellafornia burritos, crunchy salads topped with tofu or tempeh, and vegan cupcakes to hungry crowds at our mercado.

And don’t miss 4505 Meats, another MCM favorite, who will be serving the festival with “Frankaroni” and cheeseburgers. Last year, their macaroni rendition caused swarms of hungry cheese-lovers to crowd their tent, so be sure to visit early!

If you’re still hungry, finish the day with something sweet––try one of the eight treats from this list by 7X7SF.

At Mission Community Market, we appreciate all of the hard work that our vendors put in. As an event celebrating local talent and dedication, La Cocina’s Street Food Festival is a remarkable opportunity to engage with the SF food community and share light and love with the streets of San Francisco.

A Sweet Addition to MCM

Posted on by Mission Community Market in Blog, La Cocina, Sugarfoot Grits, Vendor of the Week | 1 Comment

A woman hangs out of a window, leaning over the edge to serve grits. On the other side of the window, the grits are cooked in small batches, with lots of cream, cheese, and hot sauce.

That’s the vision that Stephanie Fields had before she started Sugarfoot Grits. A southerner passionate about food, Fields came to Sugarfoot Grits with her favorite food and a great nickname. “Sugarfoot is a family nickname,” Fields says. “My uncle called me Sugarfoot when I worked in his restaurant. He gave me a lot of love.”

"Sugarfoot is a family nickname.

“Sugarfoot is a family nickname. My uncle called me Sugarfoot when I worked in his restaurant. He gave me a lot of love.”

But before Fields was dreaming of corn, she was a long-time Mission Mercado shopper. The southern-style greens that she serves alongside her bowls of grits come from Blue House Farms, and she supports many farmers by stocking her personal kitchen with their produce. Now, Fields is taking on a new position at MCM––one behind the vendor table.

Sugarfoot Grits initially expressed interest in selling at MCM in 2013, before Fields was accepted to La Cocina program and expanded her business. “I wasn’t ready then,” Fields says. “But Emily [MCM’s market manager] kept up with me and now, I’m ready.”

La Cocina is a San Francisco initiative based in the Mission District that works to give low-income women the tools that they need for success in the food industry.

To Fields, the support that came from La Cocina meant everything for her business. “I had decided that I was going to do the business no matter what,” Fields says. “But in retrospect, I’m not sure that I could have done it without [La Cocina’s] help.” And the training that La Cocina gave behind the tent didn’t stop after Fields brought Sugarfoot Grits to market. “It’s about the general day to day support,” says Fields. “During my first outdoor festival they came and stood with me for my health inspection. Health inspections are scary––it’s like Mary Poppins checking the dust under everything,” she says, laughing. “It sounds boring, but that support means a lot.”

“I had decided that I was going to do the business no matter what. But in retrospect, I’m not sure that I could have done it without [La Cocina’s] help.”

La Cocina also supported Fields through a “night market,” which was the first market that Fields had ever done. “We had a line of 20 people at all times,” she says. “It was crazy.”

But all of her work with La Cocina, as well as the plethora of pop-ups that she has done over the years, has armed Fields with the tools she needs to run a successful business––and the flavors she needs to make her grits delicious. Fields cooks her grits in small batches on-site, which means that each bowl is fresh and hot. The on-site cooking also serves as a demonstration for customers. “It makes it more interesting,” says Fields.

Fields’ corn grits are organic, and cooked with cream and cheese sourced locally. Fields tops the grits with more cheese, and southern-style greens, braised in apple-cider vinegar and with lots of added mushrooms. “I try to make it more vegetarian friendly,” Fields says. The mushrooms add savory-flavor to the grits and make them more hearty. But Fields’ grits aren’t only for vegetarians––she has pulled-pork, too, and plans on bringing chicken and dumplings to the market in future weeks. Other menu plans include sweet potato pies and a tomato-based soup with beef, lima beans, and corn.

Perhaps the flavors in her grits are welcoming because they don’t come from a traditional kitchen. “I have no culinary training,” Fields says, “I started cooking for myself for real after college.” During that time, Fields says that she was “cooking lots and lots of vegetables and couscous.”

“I learned about food then,” Fields notes. Then, in 2012, grits became her signature dish. “Grits are my favorite food,” she says. “I started bringing cheese grits to parties, and I started having pop-ups.”

Fields’ food is more than a warm bowl––to her, grits are a connection to her home and family. “I cooked grits growing up,” she says. “I’m from North Carolina, and [the grits] connect me to my family and cultural lineage. The South has a rich but difficult history. This is a positive way to connect with people.” And, Fields notes, laughing “In San Francisco, being from the South makes me special.”

“I’m from North Carolina, and [the grits] connect me to my family and cultural lineage. The South has a rich but difficult history. This is a positive way to connect with people.”

Now, Fields has a chance to bring her favorite food to a new audience. “I spend most of my time in the Mission District,” she says, “and I’m just glad to be in the neighborhood.” And so far, that audience has welcomed Sugarfoot Grits with open arms. “I had one lady who was really sweet, who said ‘welcome to the neighborhood,’” Fields says. “That made my day.”

Shop Whole Foods Potrero and Castro to Support MCM

Posted on by Mission Community Market in Blog | Leave a comment

Thanks to Whole Foods Market, when you shop at the Potrero or Market-Castro stores, bring in your own bags for groceries and you’ll have the option of receiving a 5¢ credit (per bag) or to donate the 5¢ to MCM. Our organization was selected for July and August and at the end of this time, MCM will receive the monies that have been donated.  Please shop at these Whole Food locations from now until Aug. 31 and support your Mission Mercado!  Tell your friends, and thanks to Whole Foods Market!


Mercado Kitchen: Quick Persian Pickles

Posted on by Mission Community Market in Blog | Leave a comment

If you haven’t picked up cucumbers from Blue House Farms yet, now is the time. Quick pickling the cucumbers is simple and results in sweet, tangy pickles that are perfect on kabobs, in burgers, or thrown on salads. They’re easy to store and look great in jars––give them as a gift for your next breezy summer picnic or dinner party!

Photo by Emily Nathon.

Photo by Emily Nathon.

This recipe adapted from Canning & Preserving by Ashley English.

3 pounds pickling cucumbers from Blue House Farms

2 cups distilled white vinegar

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons pickling or kosher salt

6 whole garlic cloves, peeled

1 tablespoon fennel seed from Happy Boy Farms

1 tablespoon cumin seed

1 tablespoon corinder seed

1 tablespoon mustard seed

2 teaspoons whole cloves

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 tablespoon star anise

Sanitize the containers that you will use to store your pickles. A glass mason jar works great, but any glass or ceramic dcontainer will work. Then, wash and scrub your cucumbers. Cut about 1/4 inch from each end, then cut each cucumber in half and place in a bowl. Combine 2 1/2 cups water with vinegar, sugar, salt, garlic, and spices in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. English’s original recipe excludes apple cider vinegar and star anise, but adding those ingredients will increase the sweetness of your pickles.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer. After five minutes, remove from heat. After the mixture has cooled for fifteen minutes, pour  over the cucumbers. Cover the bowl with a cloth, and allow to cool for an hour. Transfer to container and refrigerate.


Youth Surveyors Making Sure Mission Community Is Heard

Posted on by Mission Community Market in Blog, Mercado Plaza | 1 Comment

Community is more than just part of Mission Community Market’s name. And right now, the organization is making sure that the community is heard. A new survey project, funded by the San Francisco Foundation’s Great Communities Collaborative and organized by MCM in partnership with MEDA seeks to include the perspective of Mission residents in programming for the future Mercado Plaza, to be built on Bartlett Street between 21st and 22nd Streets. With the plaza, MCM hopes to transform the space into a flexible, family-friendly area with overhead protection and permanent lighting fixtures that will help to brighten the street and make it safer. Located at what is, in many ways, the crossroads of the Mission District, MCM’s survey can serve another purpose too––engaging a historic Latin@ population that traditionally doesn’t participate in City-led community workshops.

The survey project is focusing on getting feedback for future programming options at the Mercado Plaza, currently slated to be completed in the Spring of 2015. And the survey is intended for “those who live, work or go to school starting in (1) a 2-3 block radius around the future Mercado Plaza site and (2) historical Mission residents who usually don’t participate in other community feedback opportunities,” said Rosi Bustamante, executive director of MCM.  Focusing on both of these populations is important — on one side the Plaza site is an affordable housing project and parking garage, and on the other a future mixed-use, condominium project.  Seeking feedback from diverse sides will ensure Plaza programming will meet the needs of the community.

The local youth that MCM has hired to implement the surveys might hold the key to engaging all parts of the Mission District and ensuring that the Mercado Plaza is a space that benefits all. “We wanted to provide job and training opportunities to local youth, which is why we hired our surveyors,“ said Bustamante. Six bilingual, youth surveyors were hired, and MCM hopes that with the addition of these surveyors, they can include the voices of those in the community that are hardest to reach.

“We wanted to provide job and training opportunities to local youth, which is why we hired our surveyors.”

Before they hit the streets, however, the surveyors sat in on a two week training organized by MCM and MEDA. The training centered around teaching the youth about the Mercado Plaza project, what kind of questions to expect from those surveyed, and how to approach community members for surveying. “The training was cool,” said Giovanni Carreño, one of the six surveyors. “I learned how to approach people. I learned how to not take no for an answer––but not in a rude way.”

From left to right: Daniel Cortes, Giovanni Carreño, Daniel Mendoza, Ivan Castro. Not pictured: Nathaly De Leon, Susy Rojas.

From left to right: Daniel Cortes, Giovanni Carreño, Daniel Mendoza, Ivan Castro. Not pictured: Nathaly De Leon, Susy Rojas.

MCM hopes that the youth surveyors can help to get the community involved and excited about the Mercado Plaza, as well as answer any questions that they might have. So far, said Carreño, the surveyors have had some mixed reactions––especially about the length of the survey, which takes about 20 minutes to complete. “A lot of people ask, is there any way to make it shorter?” he said, laughing. “But when someone starts asking questions,” he continued, “you know that they’re interested.”

The survey, which is multiple-choice and hosted on tablets used by each of the surveyors, was created by Angela Gallegos-Castillo with feedback from MCM advisory board members. Gallegos-Castillo conducted two focus groups, one at Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 School food bank and another at The Women’s Building preschool “to get a better sense of what kinds of options to provide for the multiple choice questions,” Bustamante said. Those options include questions about what kind of programming Mission residents would like to see at the Mercado Plaza. “For example,” Bustamante said, “do they want to see more markets, cultural events, play streets? Classes, family activities, concerts?”

Mercado Plaza - Courtesy of Rebar

The anticipated design for The Mercado Plaza, opening March 2015.

The anticipated date to open the Mercado Plaza is March 2015. MCM describes the Plaza, which is being built by the City of San Francisco, as “a new public space [which will] provide a beautiful, safe and much needed open space in the heart of the Mission for a wide variety of community programs that support family health, promote small businesses, create new local art and bring diverse communities together.”

Last week, the survey team joined the market for the first time. “Two of us are here,” said Carreño, “and three more are going to houses in a two-block radius of the market.” The team will continue the survey process for about three more weeks, and hopes to administer at least 200 surveys in that time. “We needed to define a number that was attainable within our time and number of youth,” Bustamante said. And the team is hopeful. “I’d like to reach––or even exceed––the quota,” Carreño said.

photo 1 (1)

Nathaly De Leon conducts a survey at the Mission Community Market

Carreño agreed that some residents see Bartlett as a border between two populations. But he thinks that the Mercado Plaza will aid all. “The main goal is to bring more lighting,” to make it safer, he said. “They’re trying to make the street more family-oriented.”

“They’re trying to make the street more family-oriented.”

Not all that he has surveyed see it that way. “Yesterday,” said Carreño, “was the first day [of surveying]. At the first house [the resident] said he didn’t have time to take the survey but kept offering suggestions, including removing the neighboring affordable housing. It’s not all that motivating to meet people like that.”

But when I asked him whether others have been motivating, Carreño lit up. “Yes, yes. I’ve met so many motivating people,” Carreño said. He described surveying Jennifer Kindell, a vendor at the market. “She’s really passionate,” he said, “on the survey, she kept picking ‘other’ because she wanted to write what she thought.”

And for Carreño, the surveys are a chance to get in touch with the Mission District. “I want to know what people think,” he said. “I like learning about people.” When I asked him more about his surveying technique, Carreño admitted that he didn’t like to stick to the questions. “I try to just get an opinion,” he said. “I let them talk. You learn so much from people. Today [while surveying] I met a Peruvian lady at the laundromat, and she taught me about Machu Picchu. It takes a 5 hour train ride and 1 hour bus ride to get there!” said Carreño.

“I want to know what people think. I like learning about people.”

Perhaps the trick to getting responses from all of the residents of the Mission District is to think like Carreño. “A lot of Latin@s are interested in the project,” he said,” and “when I think of the Mission I think of Latin@s.”

The survey project offers a unique opportunity for MCM to connect with all residents of the Mission––and for those residents to influence the future of the district. And with their ability to connect with Mission residents from all walks of life, perhaps the youth surveyors, working in the heart of the Mission, are truly at the heart of it all.