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New SFI Cafe Doubles as Unique Business Incubator for Students

Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) and the Street Food Institute (SFI) have cooked up a unique concept that’s delivering tasty treats to delighted patrons while incubating student-owned and small, local foodie startups. It’s called the SFI Café, and it’s proving to be a recipe for success.

Feb 07, 2018

New SFI Cafe Doubles as Unique Business Incubator for Students

The SFI Café, the latest partnership effort between CNM and SFI, opened in early January in the bustling Student Services Center on Main Campus, where it serves as a business incubator for current and former culinary students, as well as other small, local startups. Students, employees and visitors of CNM get to indulge in delectable café-style food and beverages, prepared by students and graduates of CNM’s renowned Culinary Arts program or early-stage food entrepreneurs from the community.

“We have a lot of regulars coming in, excited about supporting student businesses,” said Tina Garcia-Shams, executive director of the Street Food Institute. “The students are able to showcase their business concepts and their menus while getting immediate feedback from the marketplace to understand what people like and what they don’t like. Then they can make tweaks for next steps.

“I think things are ripe for this (SFI Café) concept right now. Our state’s economy has been struggling, so people are really thinking local and how to support our economy right here. My goal is to have eight to 10 local businesses being showcased here (in the SFI Café). And how do we get students who are selling their products in this café to be able to sell in another café, and another café? We want to support that, and have an impact on families and people who are trying to make their way in a business.”

There are currently four small businesses in the SFI Café. Atomic Age Bakery is owned by Kristi Rauth-Snider, who graduated from CNM in 2016 with an associate degree in Culinary Arts. Atomic Age offers cookies, pastries and made-to-order waffles. Kalamata 505 is owned by a current CNM Culinary Arts student, Frossene King, who created the concept for her artisan bread company while taking an Entrepreneurial Food Operations class.  Lily Marie’s Coffee Company, which offers fresh-roasted, direct trade and organic coffees from around the world, is owned by former SFI student Nicole Turrieta. And Hundred Hands Coffee is a local startup featuring nitrogen-infused craft coffee and teas.

SFI’s interns also prepare daily SFI menu items at the Café, such as savory breakfast burritos, sandwich wraps, salads and soups. SFI, a non-profit, entrepreneur-focused and workforce training culinary program, is dedicated to inspiring the success of small, local businesses in New Mexico.

“As a business owner and CNM culinary student, the experience that I have gained by selling my breads and pastries at the SFI Café has helped me to grow my business,” said King, owner of Kalamata 505. “I can reach new customers, test new products, and receive expert help from the Street Food Institute chefs when I need it. I love being able to offer my services to other CNM students.”

CNM and SFI began their partnership in 2014, when they teamed up to train CNM Culinary Arts students on how to operate food trucks and other mobile food ventures, from developing entrepreneurial approaches and business plans to learning the culture and culinary techniques of the street food movement. Students served internships and worked on all aspects of operating the SFI Food Truck, from food preparation to business plans. That partnership effort has been very successful and continues today.

The SFI Food Truck was the first food truck to operate at CNM. It spawned a big idea at CNM, which was to invite local food trucks from the community to regularly operate on campus. In 2016, CNM started inviting local food trucks to campus daily. It helped CNM eliminate the cost of a large, national contract with a cafeteria vendor while supporting local, small businesses. Since the SFI-CNM partnership began, eight CNM culinary students have launched their own businesses.

“The SFI Café is the newest evolution of our partnership, which supports CNM’s strategic efforts to help incubate more businesses in our community and create more student work experience opportunities,” said Donna Diller, dean of CNM’s School of Business & Information Technology. “The SFI Café gives our CNM culinary students an amazing opportunity to feature their culinary creations in an entrepreneurial environment, which is unique and extremely valuable for them. The support the students receive from SFI and CNM as they launch their businesses increases the chances for success and the sustainability of their business concepts. Our partnership with SFI has been fantastic for our students and we’re excited about the greater impact the SFI Café can have on our local food economy.”

In the short time the SFI Café has been open, Garcia-Shams says the student businesses are already establishing themselves as viable businesses.

“We’ve already seen great results,” she said. “The student business owners have customers engaging with them, asking questions about their products and complimenting the quality of their products. Since (the student business owners) already have some steady income, they’re able to start thinking about growing to the next level. The CNM community has been very supportive, and that’s been great.”

Garcia-Shams said Rauth-Snider, the owner of Atomic Age Bakery, is racing to keep up with demand. “She’s been hiring some of our baking students to help her during the week,” Garcia-Shams said. “Two of the food truck owners here at CNM purchase her products for their businesses.”

“I dreamt of owning my own business for years… but didn’t know how to make it happen,” said Rauth-Snider. “SFI has been with me every step of the way – through permitting, advising on costing, product selection, packaging, etc. I started my business a year ago with a booth at the farmer’s market, purchased a food trailer and continue to grow with SFI’s help and continued support.”

Garcia-Shams thinks this distinctive, food business incubator model can be replicated around the community and the country.

“This (SFI Café) is very unique,” she said. “There are a lot of different types of non-profits and social enterprises around food, but the partnership between a non-profit and a higher education institution is unique. I haven’t seen anything like it. We’re in a microcosm here, so we want to share these ideas so it can happen in other places around the community. I think this is a model that can be replicated in other places around the country too, and at other community colleges. This is a great model that can allow multiple entrepreneurs to explore and grow their businesses in a shared environment.”

View the SFI Café’s hours and offerings.
CNM Culinary Arts program information.
Street Food Institute website.