For Somali immigrant Batulo Nuh, the love for cooking is in her blood. And you can taste it in the East African dishes she’s serving up at her stall inside the new Spice Bridge Food Hall in Tukwila.
“It’s amazing what we are doing here,” said Nuh. “We had no idea how this was all going to work out at first, but I am really happy that more people are finding out about this place and coming in to try all the foods from around the world!”
Nuh and her business partner, Mwana Moyo, who is originally from Tanzania, runs Moyo Kitchen one of eight vendors who are part of the food business incubator program run by the nonprofit Global to Local. The nonprofit’s arm called Food Innovation Network, or FIN, helps low-income women of color and immigrants plan and grow their business. The 2,800- square foot food hall and community kitchen, located inside Tukwila Village, is home to FIN, and has been opened to the public since early September.
“This has been at least five years in the making and we are so happy to see it become a reality,” said Kara Martin, program director for Global to Local. “Our mission is to help this diverse group of entrepreneurs find their footing and make their culinary dreams come true. That hasn’t always been easy in a place like Seattle where real estate rental prices for a business space can be unaffordable for many. Our program gives these vendors, most of them immigrants and refugees, a chance to launch their business and get the help they need from people in their own community.”
Through FIN, the small business owners get assistance with things like rent subsidies, along with business planning and marketing guidance. They also get a chance to experience what it’s like to run a food operation out of the Spice Bridge Food Hall, which features four retail stalls. (The eight vendors rotate on various schedules.) Most who went through the incubator program are low-income minorities from across South King County, hoping to one day make it in the food industry.
“We knew there was a need for this and we are elated that this food hall is now open, especially with delays involving everything from construction to permitting linked to COVID-19,” said Martin. “Of course this comes on top of the challenges of opening a food business in general. Initially we were planning on an indoor dining area, with musical and art pop-ups, but it’s not possible right now because of the pandemic. We do have some outdoor seatings and vendors can only offer take-outs right now. But despite all this, we see this global food hall as a real bright spot with everything that’s going on.”
This positivity is evident in Nasrin Noori who runs Jazze’s at Spice Bridge. Noori was born in Afghanistan and moved to the US when she was 12, but she never lost the passion for food from her native country. The mother of four now offers fusion Afghan dishes, made from local and organic ingredients, at the food stall she is running with the help of her husband and a girlfriend.
“It’s been a lot busier than I had expected. I was so swamped this past weekend, I didn’t even have time to use the restroom!” laughed Noori. “But yes, this experience and what this business incubator program has given us is priceless. I am learning a lot about running a business and making mistakes that I would rather make now than later when I get to open my own restaurant.”
For Nuh, who aside from cooking up dishes for Moyo Kitchen, is also working full time as a case manager for a homeless youth program, said opening up a restaurant is also her goal. She said that dream will take time and money, but right now, she’s getting the skills she needs to take on a bigger culinary venture down the road.
“We are learning a lot, especially about what the customers want. Since we opened, we had already adjusted our menus a few times to offer vegetarian and gluten-free options. We are also paring down the menu to the most popular dishes like our goat and kale stews. People just love them!”
Aside from Moyo Kitchen and Jazze’s, other vendors at the Spice Bridge Food Hall are Afella Jollof Catering which serves up Gambian and Senegalese cuisine; Seatango offers a variety of sweet and savory pastries from Argentina; Taste of Congo offers authentic Congolese cuisine; Theary Cambodian Foods serves Cambodian/Khmer dishes; Wengay’s Kitchen cooks up traditional Filipino favorites, and WUHA offers Ethiopian-American dishes.
The Spice Bridge Food Hall, located at 14200 Tukwila Boulevard, across from Tukwila Public Library. It is open everyday except Mondays. For vendors’ schedules and operating hours, go to https://foodinnovationnetwork.org/food-hall/