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Inside the walls of her kitchen at her childhood home in Guatemala, Evelyn Klohr, the founder of a Washington, D.C.-area bakery called Kakeshionista, was taught a lesson that remains central to her business operations today.
“Baking cakes gave me the confidence to believe in my own brand and now I put my heart into giving my customers something they’ll enjoy eating,” Klohr said.
While driven to launch her own baking business, pursuing a dream in the culinary arts was economically challenging for Klohr. In the United States, culinary schools can open doors to future careers, but the cost of entry can be upwards of $36,000 annually.
Through a friend, Klohr learned about La Cocina VA, a nonprofit dedicated to providing job training and entrepreneurship development services at a training facility in the Washington, D.C-area.
La Cocina VA’s, which translates to “the kitchen” in Spanish, offers its Bilingual Culinary Training program to prepare low-and moderate-income individuals from diverse backgrounds to launch careers in the food industry.
That program gave Klohr the ability to fully immerse herself in the baking industry within a professional kitchen facility and receive training in an array of subjects including culinary skills, food safety, career development and English language classes.
The organization also offers participants the opportunity to enroll in its Culinary Small Business Incubator, a 9-week training course that teaches participants to create and scale their own food-based startups.
During that program, LA Cocina VA provides participants with support for developing the internal operations of their businesses and provides a shared kitchen for community members to rent space at affordable rates.
Patricia Funegra, who founded La Cocina VA in 2014, said that helping people like Klohr is exactly why she wanted to create the incubator.
“I have firsthand experience of the difficulties of being an immigrant and person of color in America,” said Funegra. “At the same time, I also know the enormous opportunities that exist here to improve people’s lives.”
With the help of funding from Capital One, the center has been able to support 160 participants since opening with roughly 85% of graduates being hired for jobs in the food industry upon completion.
La Cocina VA also received support from Capital One’s Community Finance team as it provided financing for the construction of Gilliam Place, an affordable housing unit in which La Cocina VA moved its operations into in 2020.
After moving into Gilliam Place, Funegra launched the Zero Barriers Training and Entrepreneurship Center, a hub for startup founders that includes a kitchen incubator and a community cafe to provide workforce development opportunities for residents.
That support comes as part of the Capital One Impact Initiative, a multi-million dollar commitment to support growth in underserved communities and advance socioeconomic mobility by closing gaps in equity and opportunity.
La Cocina VA students also worked alongside the Capital One Cafe’s leadership team to learn skills in management and personal finance and talk through best practices in scheduling, planning shifts, and integrating into the community ahead of launching their own culinary businesses.
Capital One’s Brand team has also provided support through exploration of a new name and identity for La Cocina. To create differentiation and reflect the evolving and expanding services that La Cocina VA offers, this team of Capital One associates worked with Funegra to explore what the organization means to its clients, partners and to the community and neighborhood that is woven into the fabric of its identity.
That creative ideation process included input from board members, volunteers and La Cocina VA’s staff. A team of 34 Capital One associates explored names across four different themes — neighborhood, mobility, food and prosperity — which generated over 1,000 names to choose from.
Capital One’s Hispanic Business Resource Group ¡HOLA! — a team of Hispanic associates and allies that strive to empower Hispanic associates — has also provided support to La Cocina VA through helping translate their website into Spanish and offering mentorship.
“The COVID-19 pandemic forced entrepreneurs, especially people of color and immigrants, to shift their entire business models just to survive,” said Emilia Lopez, the Senior Vice President of US Card Customer Resiliency, who serves on La Cocina VA’s Board of Directors. “As a La Cocina VA board member, I am proud of the commitment and support Capital One has provided to help entrepreneurs quickly adapt their businesses to support alternative dining options.”
The program also communicates with employers, partners, hotels and restaurants to make them aware of their pipeline of graduates.
“La Cocina VA taught me not just the physical work that goes into baking and cooking but also how to have a good understanding to mentally and financially launch my business,” said Klohr. “They’re helping me make those connections and I know they’ll always have my back.”