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SALT LAKE CITY — When Ana Valdemoros finished her degree in city planning, she began an internship. But, like many new post-grads, she still needed to find a way to pay the rent.
So she put a skill she learned as a child to use, making empanadas and selling them at farmers' markets.
However, "I am not trained in the food business. I only know how to make empanadas from childhood, you know," Valdemoros said.
During that time, "so many people" helped her with her business, she says. That help inspired her to return the favor to others.
On Friday, Valdemoros and her business partner, Tham Soekotjo, celebrated the opening of their new culinary incubator kitchen in Salt Lake City, along with several city officials and food business owners.
The Square Kitchen, located at 751 W. 800 South, was funded in part by a $375,000 grant from the city and a $250,000 loan from the city's Sustainability Department, as well as private funding. It will give fledgling food business owners the use of affordable kitchen space and marketing resources.
Options for renting space range in price from $14 an hour to $25 an hour, depending on the time of day and whether the renter will be cooking or prepping.
"When I was running out of space for my business, we thought, 'How about if we could build a kitchen that is well-managed and affordable and share it with other food businesses that we meet along the way?'" Valdemoros explained. "We can make something really, really cool and erase all of those roadblocks and challenges that small businesses face."
The name of the incubator kitchen utilizes a term often used in city planning. "'Square' is usually the center of the city or a gathering place. … We felt like a kitchen brings people together, cooking in a central location," she said.
Jen Smith, along with her husband, owns Polarican, a food business that fuses Polish and Puerto Rican food. They are among the first small food business owners to use The Square Kitchen.
Smith and her husband both have separate full-time jobs, and have been selling their food at farmers' markets for the past four years. She says she does it because she loves "sharing cultures with Salt Lake City and bringing a lot of diversity."
"That's why I love being in this kitchen, is just the different stories of family backgrounds and recipes. Honestly just feeding people and making them happy. It's the best thing," she said.
The Square Kitchen is convenient and will help food business owners build connections with each other, Smith explained.
There are newcomers in the business and those with food trucks who will use the space. "We're connecting with each other and learning from each other, and streamlining our businesses by just getting better as a community," she added.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski also discussed the ways the kitchen will benefit the community and create jobs.
"Supporting local food is one of the most impactful ways we can strengthen and enrich our city," she said, adding that two-thirds of start-ups fail within the first five years because of a lack of resources.
However, 87 percent of businesses that begin in an incubator kitchen are still viable after five years, the mayor said.