Neighborhood Spotlight: A Heritage Food Incubator Sparking the Entrepreneurial Spirit in Denver

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Neighborhood Spotlight: A Heritage Food Incubator Sparking the Entrepreneurial Spirit in Denver

Three of the eight Denver neighborhoods Extreme Community Makeover serves in are the Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea neighborhoods, located on the north side of Denver. These neighborhoods have a history as a home for immigrants that has continued into the present day. They are some of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods, yet are also some of the last parts of Denver to receive a specific development plan. Several large operations and employers are located in this area, including the Denver Coliseum and Stock Show complex, the Bannock Street furniture business district, Denver Union Stockyards, Cudahy Meatpacking, Pepsi-Cola Bottlers, and numerous other companies. 

One of the local gems in north Denver is Comal. This social enterprise, run by Focus Points, is located the Globeville neighborhood. Comal is a lunch restaurant and training program. The Comal program provides skills in culinary arts and business as a platform for economic development to  immigrants and refugees—who originate from countries like Mexico, El Salvador, Syria, Iraq, and Ethiopia. The program gives participants a venue to celebrate their culinary traditions while learning about entrepreneurship and professional food services.

“Comal was founded in October of 2016 and is located at the TAXI I building in Globeville/RiNo. The mission of Comal is to create a platform for economic development for aspiring entrepreneurs in the food industry. We serve immigrant and refugee women from all over the world. Our vision is to grow the community of international restauranteurs who now call Colorado home, providing resources and a safe place for learning, growing, and achieving their goals. This breezy lunch counter continues to support the dreams of women from Mexico, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, El Salvador, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and beyond, ” explains Matthew Vernon, the Senior Manager of Social Enterprise.

Focus Points noticed a unique need in north Denver and acted upon this need. In pairing the local cuisines from their native countries with expert chefs and a robust workforce development team, they built a platform for economic development. The ‘earn-while-you-learn’ model of Comal helps support these aspiring women to have the access and income to commit to the training and time needed to fulfill their dreams, while maintaining the needs of their families.  

Matthew further explains, “Comal Heritage Food Incubator was launched in direct response to the community served by Focus Points. Aspiring entrepreneurs in the Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea neighborhoods found themselves looking for access to a commissary space and training on how to launch their businesses in the food industry.”

Matthew knows how unique these neighborhoods are to Denver. He expounds, “The GES (Globeville-Elyria-Swansea) community is vibrant, passionate and chock-full of entrepreneurial spirit. It has for many years been left out of the economic activity of Denver leaving its residents cut off physically via trains and highways with little access to the growing job market or other opportunities. Being designated a food desert, a childcare desert, a transportation desert and on the edge of one of the most polluted areas in the country, GES has continued to fight against oppression and for an equal voice in how its community is treated and developed. The people who live in GES are primarily Latinx immigrants and people of color; some having lived in the neighborhood for decades and others having arrived to the country recently.”

Focus Points believes that community is the foundation of society.

“Community molds and shapes the conversations we have around how a life should be lived and how it can make or break the success of a family. Focus Points’ mission is to build better communities by strengthening families.”

“At the core of what we do are the individuals thriving to create a strong family that builds a great community of doers and thinkers. Community is a collective voice and at the essence of many cultures near and far. It is in community that we find our voice and our strength,” say Matthew.

Focus Points, no doubt, is make a huge difference in Denver communities and they are celebrating their 25th Anniversary this year. “While Focus Points has been in the GES neighborhood since 2008, it was previously located in Five Points. The building we currently reside in has seen a shift from a community primarily of African-Americans to Latinx-Americans over the decades and is now seeing more refugees from the Middle East, South America, and East Africa. Massive amounts of gentrification have pushed the originally served communities to the edge of the neighborhood and continues to shape the primary conversations in and around the community. With Interstate 70 construction putting the entire community at a disadvantage, the story has not become easier in recent years. Focus Points continues to be a trusted member of this community and a partner in elevating the many voices of GES,” Matthew describes.

If you’d like to learn more about Comal click here.

                       

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