Food incubators, food hubs, and food halls are all interesting concepts that have become extremely popular around North America over the past decade. Many of these culinary and food concepts have become successful from both a business and economic perspective. However many struggle financially, even before they can get off the ground. It is easy to open a proven concept such as a Subway… but a food hub that focuses on empowering women and minorities through micro-restaurants, that is a much trickier financial perspective.
The planned “La Cocina Municipal Market” in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco has been anticipated since early 2017. It would be run by the nonprofit La Cocina, which does some really interesting stuff in the Bay Area
The mission of La Cocina is to cultivate low income food entrepreneurs as they formalize and grow their businesses by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, industry-specific technical assistance and access to market opportunities. We focus primarily on women from communities of color and immigrant communities. Our vision is that entrepreneurs gain financial security by doing what they love to do, creating an innovative, vibrant and inclusive economic landscape.
La Cocina Municipal Market is to occupy a 7,500 square foot space in an old post office building that has been sitting vacant. Permanent long term plans for the site include a mixed-use building containing retail at-grade with affordable and social housing above. Due to the extensive process of raising funds for the development, demolition of the post office building is still 5 to 8 years away. Enter La Cocina, which has planned the Municipal Market as a temporary use until demolition. The Market would be a place for local women to launch micro restaurants and other food-related businesses, building upon the great work that the non profit has already completed for the community from a culinary incubation perspective.
The Market was expected to begin construction in early summer, with renovations to the post office building completed before the end of 2018. The project has now hit a road block due to unexpected rising costs. Originally, the Market construction had a budget of $2 million. $1 million was provided by a local family who were previous owners of the land. La Cocina matched this amount, for a total of $2 million in funding.
Unexpected costs have now plagued the project, with construction costs rising to nearly $4 million. The additional $2 million will have to come from a mix of city-provided funds, and philanthropic donations. Cost overruns are typical in re-purposed buildings, especially when transitioning to a highly specific use. The concept of the Municipal Market is an exciting endevour that would empower local women and provide a culinary anchor to the Tenderloin District; however the financial implications that La Cocina are facing demonstrate the difficulties of adapting a building within a limited budget. It also begs the question of whether the $4 million would be better used on a more permanent location, since the post office site will ultimately be redeveloped within the next decade. It would be a shame to invest a large amount of money into a building that has a limited shelf-life. Creating community spaces is so important, especially in ethnically diverse areas such as the Tenderloin, but removing them once they have become entrenched in a neighborhood is difficult.
There has been discussions among city officials and community groups on how to raise the additional funds required to move the project ahead.
To learn more about La Cocina, their incubated culinary businesses, or to donate to the cause, follow the link.