A Tasty Investment

Cocina Latina builds on the dreams of local food entrepreneurs

Tenzin Khyentse and Kristal Perez vend their culinary treats at the weekly Cocina Latina.
Photo by Clark Hodgin

Starting a culinary business is hard for anyone. The amount of red tape one has to cut through on the way to opening a food truck, or even just jarring homemade jam to sell, can be so daunting that most people don’t even try. Now just imagine trying to do that in a new country and in a second language. 

Adriana Chavela, the executive director of local nonprofit Hola Carolina, which started as a Spanish-language lifestyle magazine, didn’t have to imagine it. She saw it everywhere in her community. “Before COVID-19, our focus was on communication and building festivals to gather groups and enjoy everybody,” she says. The group’s Hola Cultural Center administered summer fiestas in Asheville and Hendersonville, a Day of the Dead festival, and the International Children’s Festival. “When we were doing the festivals, a lot of people in the community wanted to sell their salsas, or their jellies, and things like that.” But proper permits were needed. So Chavela and Hola Carolina stepped in and helped these makers sort through the paperwork to sell their products, eventually founding Cocina Latina to provide training for budding entrepreneurs in the Spanish-speaking community. 

“Everybody just wanted to be part of the festival and share their food,” she says. Through the program, they learn about financing, insurance, health regulations — everything it takes to get a food-based business up and running.

Photo by Clark Hodgin

Since opening in 2014, Cocina Latina has helped more than 60 participants, many of whom have gone on to start food trucks, taco stands, and package their salsas, baked goods, and more. Like Sugar Rush by Krys. Owner Kristal Perez turned her love of baking into a catering and baked-goods company, selling cupcakes and pastries at farmers’ markets and booking more elaborate baked goods for weddings and events.

“Most of the people in the program have a passion for cooking,” Chavela says, “and most of them have experience selling their food in their countries [of origin], so they have experience. That entrepreneurship is already there — they just don’t know how to make it happen with regulations and investments; that makes it tough.” 

Many members now share their goods through a partnership with Mountain BizWorks at the weekly Hendersonville Farmers Market, which gives them access to a wide audience of steady (often repeat) customers.

“Little by little, they are building on their dream,” says Chavela, “Maybe their dream is to open a restaurant, but sometimes it takes a while, and a lot of investment. So this is a way for us to try to help dreams come true.”

To purchase from Cocina Latina participants, check out the weekly Hendersonville Farmers Market, held at the Historic Train Depot (650 Maple St.) on Saturdays from 8am-1pm, 828-233-3216. For more information about Hola Carolina’s business programs, including when training will resume again, contact info@holacarolina.org. 

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