The Town Kitchen connects low-income Oakland youth aged 16-24 with local chefs and artisans to plan, prepare, build, box and deliver curbside lunch to companies and individuals in the Oakland and San Francisco Bay area. The Community Lunchbox highlights communities through food. Every menu is designed by a guest chef, created by Town Kitchen youth workforce, and partnered with local artisan food businesses.
It includes a locally-sourced main course, dessert, and an eight ounce drink. Companies and individuals will order from a rotating monthly menu. They strive to create a community where low-income Oakland and San Francisco Bay Area youth can shine. A community where youth will be introduced to talented chefs & start-up entrepreneurs. In the next three years they plan to provide fair-wage jobs and entrepreneurial training to 43 low-income Bay Area youth. they just completed a $40,000 Indiegogo campaign to create a professional kitchen atmosphere for the youth in the Bay Area.
Of the $40K being raising, they will allocate $15K to kitchen supplies and equipment, enabling the youth to prep delicious meals:
Youth are the core of The Town Kitchen. They will educate and train local low-income Oakland youth in food preparation, food entrepreneurship, and food justice. They’ll also take part in The Town Kitchen decision making and have equity in the business! Hiring high-potential youth makes them less likely to be incarcerated and more likely to graduate from college. This is crucial because California has the highest number of incarcerated youth in the U.S. (11,532). California also has the second lowest percentage of youth (25 or older) completing a bachelor’s degree: 18.2%.
the Town Kitchen works closely with three amazing partners: Institute for Sustainable Economic, Educational, and Environmental Design (also known as I-SEEED), Youth Seed, and Impact Hub Oakland. I-SEEED is helping create a curriculum for the youth that will give them college credits at San Francisco State University and other colleges, Youth Seed supports The Town Kitchen with an engaging youth entrepreneurship program model, and Impact Hub Oakland provides an amazing co-working space.
Q&A with Founder Sabrina Mutukisna
Lets first start by telling us how it all started and when did the idea enter your mind?
I started working in youth employment over eight years ago and became incredibly passionate about connecting low-income students to jobs in the Bay Area. At the same time, I also owned my own cupcake business — Cynically Delicious — (which mainly started as a side project to fund my Bay Area dining habits.) Working with youth at non-profit organizations, you’re reminded of how much mentor-ship impacts young people.
When I was working with high school students in SF’s Mission District, they all asked, “How can I be you?” I thought that was problematic — should I be encouraging low-income youth who will overcome everything to graduate from college to enter careers that pay $35K? For some of them, the answer is a hell yes. They will change their communities far better than outsiders. But I also think we need to build industry in these communities too.
With this in mind, I explored the idea of “doing good” while generating revenue. I was already friends with my future business partner, JP Hailer — we had worked on workforce development projects together at Growth Sector but we’d never spoken about our long term goals. When we started talking about social enterprises, it immediately clicked. She had completed a sustainable MBA and had a ton of resources about benefit corporations. We explored a lot of other industries but ultimately we landed on food because it was the sector that we loved and grew up in.
I think food and youth development are sectors that naturally build community. Whether it’s sourcing food or connecting youth to social services, you rely on others to execute your goal.
I also think both sectors compliment each other well. For those of us working in youth development, we’re constantly thinking about where our cities will be in the near future. Will this student be able to raise a family in Oakland in 10 years? Should I encourage her to pursue this career? One thing I like about the food industry is the urgency. You’re always up against the clock. There’s always the potential for a dish to get cold.
The urgency in the kitchen is not only good for youth skills but it’s also important for the youth movement. We need to communicate the urgency of investing in our youth.
Looks like you are working with three amazing partners (Institute for Sustainable Economic, Educational, and Environmental Design (also known as I-SEEED), Youth Seed, and Impact Hub Oakland.) Tell us how did those partnerships come to be. Did they come to you or did you pitxh the idea to them?
Antwi Akom has been my mentor for quite some time and when he founded I-SEEED (with Jeff Duncan-Andrade + Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales), I knew I wanted to be a part of it in some capacity. For the last few years, I worked with I-SEEED on a few project, mostly around youth participatory action, social entrepreneurship, and STEM. When JP and I finally decided to go full force on The Town Kitchen, it was no question that we’d approach I-SEEED. Not only did they back our Kiva Zip loan but they’re our thought partners on all aspects of the business.
We’re really grateful to be part of the Impact HUB Oakland family! It’s such an inclusive environment. We started in the co-working space in April and pretty quickly we were in discussions about collaborations. We’re proud that our first 100 meals went out to Impact HUB Oakland members!
I had met Amanda Greene from Youth SEED about a year ago but when I reached out to her in June, I didn’t realize they were already partnering with Impact HUB Oakland. It was a little bit of kismet. They’ll be launching Youth Impact HUB Oakland in January and I’m incredibly excited to be a mentor to one of the youth entrepreneur fellows!
Tell us how does it work, a local companies calls Town Kitchen for a catered lunch and then a local chef creates the meals for that one company? Or does one chef create the meals for that entire week of lunches? Tell us about the process.
Great question! Right now, local companies can order our lunches via email (email@example.com). Eventually, they’ll be able to order through our website and mobile app too.
Our executive chef, Jefferson Sevilla (formerly of SpoonRocket + Google SF), executes the meals with our kitchen team and our youth. The menus will rotate weekly with 3 menus per month, designed by Jefferson and eventually, our youth! One menu per month is designed by a local partner chef that supports our mission. Their menu will be executed by Jefferson and our team in collaboration with the partner chef. Ideally new cooking styles + techniques come from the conversations!