Story and photos by Audrey Callaway Scherer, staff reporter
The Street Food Institute is scheduled to further expand its students’ opportunities to sell their concept foods in about one month when it opens a second café location in the science research center across the street from its café on Main Campus, said the Institute’s program director and chef, David Sellers.
The Street Food Institute (SFI) is a nonprofit small business incubator that partnered with CNM to teach culinary and entrepreneurship classes and that sells its students’ products through both the Main Campus café and its three food trucks, he said.
“The whole point is that we have students who go through the program and who are our employees, and it’s a teaching thing. We’re teaching them how to run a business,” said Sellers. “They are trying to maybe start their own small businesses, so it’s like a little business incubator.”
In addition to the entrepreneurship lab and lecture, SFI offers an internship through which students work for the café for college credits and are paid on a stipend basis, but also gain work experience, more experience with their business concepts, and for those students who start a business, the ability to use the café’s kitchen and sell their items through SFI.
SFI buys the items wholesale but sells them using the students’ own packaging, he said. The incubator kitchen gives their businesses a place to start, some promotion and some sales.
In addition to providing more opportunities for the students, expansion and sales allow SFI to rely less on grants because of how it is set up as a 501(c)(3), he said.
“It’s a social enterprise program . . . what we do through the food sales is generate money to fund our program,” he said. “As we keep expanding, it offers more opportunities for our students and then as well, it allows us to rely on less grant funding. It kind of feeds itself in a way.”
Virtually every employee at the SFI, except for the three main people running the program, have gone through and been hired by the program, he said. Some will become managers and then most go on to run their business or become sous chefs at another restaurant.
Because of this cycling in and out of people, the food items in the café switch up a lot according to the different concepts students are trying. It currently has two bakers, a coffee micro-roaster, and an empanada person using the kitchen, he said.
SFI does its own things, like a daily burrito and taco bar, but also does a lot of special things that involve the students, he said.
There is usually a weekly special, like the recent Greek lamb gyros and falafels, and random daily specials like their recent doughnuts and doughnut holes.
The café team also does a lot of special things like Waffle Wednesdays, done by a baker who started Atomic Age Bakery, and pizza on Fridays, done by another baker who started 505 Kalamata, he said. Sometimes 505 Kalamata will do lasagna and other Italian and Greek specials and it also makes the bread for Nick and Jimmy’s restaurant, he said.
The food trucks do double-duty as catering mechanisms and for serving out in the public, he said. SFI does all kinds of different things in the community, such as catering in Santa Fe and at weddings and serving at Marble Brewery.
“We started with just one food truck across the street, then we built it up to three trucks and then we got the café, so we kind of just keep adding onto it,” he said. “We’ve been around for five years and we slowly build.”
SFI moved into CNM’s cafeteria in January of 2018 when it became available and was offered to them, and the biggest advantage was that it centralized the SFI location, he said.
“Previously, we were in a different kitchen, kind of doing the program at CNM but we were split up and all over the place,” he said. SFI used a shared space in a community kitchen at the South Valley Economic Development Center.
“As we grew more and more, it was basically becoming impossible to stay there and this opened up right at the same time and it was perfect,” he said.
Not only were they able to open the café and have a three-dock bay for their three food trucks, but they now do all the cooking for their catering, food truck sales and everything out of that one kitchen, he said.
“They’re awesome [at CNM]. They provided us with this kitchen, which is huge, totally huge. Not only is it little cost to us but it generates money,” he said. “And it’s symbiotic. It works for them too because the students benefit from being able to do our program and do their stuff.”
In addition to offering their program at CNM, SFI offers basically the same information to members of the community who wouldn’t go to a college, like undocumented immigrants, very poor people or maybe late career changers, he said.
Although the internship part is offered in the CNM café, the classes for these groups are done at Three Sisters Kitchen on Gold Avenue and 2nd Street, another community-based nonprofit doing culinary education, which is run by a friend of the SFI team.