When Jessica Mataka talks about plans for San Francisco’s future Municipal Marketplace food hall, she doesn’t mention celebrity chefs, industrial design, or the latest food trends.
She brings up the seven low-income and immigrant female entrepreneurs who will get the chance to share their cooking with customers when the facility opens in 2019. And she talks about how the 7,000-square-foot market will serve as the backbone of the gritty Tenderloin district.
“The marketplace can serve as more than just an opportunity for business expansion for entrepreneurs,” Mataka says. “It’s also a space for residents who are struggling to survive in one of the last vestiges of affordable housing.”
For example, she says, Municipal Marketplace will create an estimated 30 jobs for Tenderloin residents.
Mataka handles development and communications at La Cocina, the incubator for low-income women opening their own eateries. She was thrilled when La Cocina won the nonprofit prize at WeWork’s San Francisco Creator Awards on May 10. The $130,000 award will go toward a $4 million capital campaign by La Cocina to build a food hall in a former post office building on Hyde Street.
Unlike most of the city’s other food halls, Municipal Marketplace will have an on-site kitchen, eliminating a problem faced by many small food businesses. The cost for a commercial kitchen is one of the biggest barriers for newcomers to the restaurant scene.
Municipal Marketplace will welcome customers who have not necessarily been the target demographic of gourmet food halls. They plan to accept food stamps and offer a rotating blue plate special for $5.
The San Francisco Chronicle calls La Cocina “the most important food organization in San Francisco.” The incubator takes chefs through a mini-MBA program for the food industry, during which they learn how to brand their businesses and understand operational costs. When they’re ready, La Cocina brokers sales opportunities for them at farmers markets, and grocery stores gives they contacts for potential catering jobs. They also help owners negotiate favorable leases so they can eventually move out of La Cocina’s kitchen and into their own spaces.
Graduates of La Cocina have opened 25 restaurants in the Bay Area, created hundreds of jobs, and generated at least $10 million in revenue, according to La Cocina’s 2017 annual report. That’s significant in an industry where nearly three-quarters of restaurants are owned by men.
“If you are an immigrant or a person of color and you have to deal with people’s implicit biases, and you can’t access a traditional bank loan or you didn’t go to college, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for you,” Mataka said. “Every day at La Cocina there are opportunities for people to create their life’s work and pave the way forward for a new kind of world we want to live in.”