(From left) Bingo de Mel Brazilian Bakery owners and chefs Tania and Pedro Siqueira work in the Maestro Entrepreneur Center commercial kitchen.
(From left) Pingo de Mel Brazilian Bakery owners and chefs Tania and Pedro Siqueira work in the Maestro Entrepreneur Center commercial kitchen. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

San Antonio is opening the kitchen door for aspiring culinary entrepreneurs.

The City of San Antonio is partnering with the Maestro Entrepreneur Center, a business training and accelerator program, to give food industry startups no-cost admission to the Center’s commercial kitchen.

The City’s Economic Development Department approved $50,000 for the Maestro Entrepreneur Center to provide 1,200 hours of free commercial kitchen access. The access is free to small business owners through Launch SA, a program developed by the City with nonprofit small business lender LiftFund. The funding also is intended to enhance the services and programs provided by Launch SA, such as Break Fast & Launch, a 10-week culinary business accelerator that is the nation’s first such program.

“At Launch SA, we’ve seen the need for a commercial kitchen for a while,” stated Ryan Salts, director of Launch SA. “It’s great to see that partners like the Maestro Entrepreneur Center are filling a much-needed gap in our community and helping entrepreneurs grow toward sustainability.”

Located on San Antonio’s West Side, the Maestro Entrepreneur Center is a program of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that supports small, minority- and women-owned businesses. The center offers incubation space for office, warehouse, and commercial kitchen usage as well as acceleration training and networking and business opportunities.

Former truck driver-turned-chef Kenny A. York had the idea to start his business, Levitikus Catering, just after moving to San Antonio three years ago. York enrolled in Launch SA’s Break Fast & Launch program, and in less than a year, he has launched his small business and already prepared meals for a mayor’s event.

“I take [customers] on a trip around the world – Asian, Jamaican, German, Spanish, African, European,” York said of his menus, which can also be prepared gluten free or vegan depending on the customers’ needs. But he found it strange, he said, that there wasn’t a commercial kitchen for startups available in San Antonio as he had experienced in other cities.

York started out in his church’s commercial kitchen for small jobs but began using Maestro’s this year as his business grew. He paid $375 a month for a membership to use the kitchen 10 hours a month. With free access now available, York will be able to use those funds to join a culinary co-working space on the Northside, Alamo Kitchens, in order to keep expanding and serving clients in other parts of the city.

The owner of Alamo Kitchens, Tracie Shelton, is another graduate of Break Fast & Launch. The program offers hands-on-mentoring, training, and experimental learning. “The workshops and networking proved invaluable, and the continued mentoring remains a great support for me,” Shelton said.

Graduates of Break Fast & Launch include restaurateurs, beverage makers and sellers, and developers of packaged food products. Since 2015, the program has mentored and trained 102 small culinary businesses, which together have raised more than $2.1 million in funding to start or grow their ventures, Salts said. Nearly 60 percent of the graduates are minorities and 10 percent are veterans.

The National Restaurant Association says restaurants are fundamental to small business creation and development across the country. In the United States, the accommodation and food services sector ranks sixth among small business industries, according to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau data, and more than nine in 10 restaurants have fewer than 50 employees.

“This partnership strengthens the City’s support of local culinary entrepreneurs,” stated Michael Sindon, assistant director at the City’s Economic Development Department. “The free commercial kitchen access provided by Maestro, combined with the tools and value that entrepreneurs gain through Launch SA’s programs, gives culinary entrepreneurs the best chance at starting their business successfully.”

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.