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Comal Heritage Food Incubator Opening New Location

Comal Heritage Food Incubator throws open its doors for a soft opening at its new location on July 11 at RiNo ArtPark. The restaurant and training program provides opportunities for immigrants and refugees to find jobs within the food industry, including resources to open their own businesses. 

Program participant Maria Elena Perez immigrated from Sonora, Mexico to Denver two years ago. At the menu preview for Comal’s new location, she spoke about her ambitions.  

“My dream is to open a coffee shop hopefully with a space where we can have small events, like as a venue,” Perez said. “So to be a coffee shop for breakfast and lunch, and then in the evenings to have that space available for small parties.”

Comal opened its original location in RiNo’s Taxi community in 2016. The program is a partnership with the Focus Points Family Resource Center in response to calls from the community for “economic opportunity in the face of gentrification,” according to its website. Since opening the program, Comal has helped 34 participants, ten of them who’ve opened their own businesses.

Perez found the program “by accident” when she was in Focus Point’s English lesson program and discovered the restaurant needed a cashier. 

“I started working as a cashier, I learned that maybe I can be a participant too,” Perez said. “So I asked—I applied and now I am a participant.”

Perez shared some of her tacos de carne asada, which will be available on the menu at Comal’s new location. Carne asada is a traditional grilled and sliced steak which she said is a very common dish where she comes from. 

“My cooking is inspired by my great grandma, my grandma, and my mom,” Perez said. “It’s very common to have carne asada, the whole thing’s very traditional. It doesn’t matter where or it doesn’t matter who is having a carne asada. Everyone is going to have at least two types of carne asada. So it’s very familiar for the community get togethers.”

Comal provides immigrants with an opportunity to ‘learn while they earn” and share their traditional food—like Perez’s tacos de carne asada—with the people of Denver. Current participants that are working to open the new location are from Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Spain and Cuba. Each has a dream of opening their own restaurant and sharing food from their culture.

Venezuelan immigrant Gilnia Contreras shared a dish called El Caribe tilapia empanizada with coleslaw and tostones, or fried green plantains. 

“I’m here and I’m glad because it’s a big program to learn how to do business and also how to manage,” she said.

The program teaches participants everything they need to know about restaurant management, from invoicing and tracking finances to food safety and recipe development.

“It is very important to learn how to manage people,” Perez said. “Working in the kitchen is very stressful and I think it’s a skill that I’m learning already. Just the opportunity to happen to be able to participate here—I’ve been meeting a lot of people that are adding to my knowledge in full. So I’m very grateful for that.”

Focus Point Interim Senior Manager Seynabou Sohai said the old space at the Taxi building was roughly 600 square feet, and the new location is 2,600. And with more space in the new location at RiNo ArtPark, the program can help even more participants. At some point next year, they will be open for dinner. 

“We’re working our way slowly with [opening for dinner] because we are going to be starting to do commissary, which is a much-needed service here in the area for business,” Sohai said.

Comal’s new space is at 1900 35th Street. The restaurant is right across from the Bob Ragland Branch Library and Red Line Gallery. It will be open Tuesdays through Fridays for breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.


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