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Chef Lachelle Cunningham empowers culinary entrepreneurs

(Via Lachelle Cunningham)

Chef and educator Lachelle Cunningham recently closed on the purchase of City Food Studio, a shared-use commercial kitchen located at George Floyd Square. Cunningham has a long history with the space.

“When the previous owner journey opened this kitchen back in like 2014, I was one of the first people that used the space,” said Cunningham. “And then I've been in here periodically over the years. And then last year, I started working out of here with my catering business.”

Cunningham runs Chelle’s Kitchen Catering, as well as the nonprofit Healthy Roots Institute, which provides food education, culinary training and ongoing professional support for entrepreneurs and businesses. Cunningham says it’s important to support local entrepreneurs to help bridge the gaps created by racial inequities and uplift economical wealth for those faced with disparities.

“Everything I do is about healing, even though we're in this food business class,” explained Cunningham. “We might be learning about food safety, and the legal requirements, or we might be learning how to write our business plans and things like that. Nevertheless, this is all still about healing, education, and having that knowledge and empowerment is healing. That's why I do cooking workshops. All of my cooking workshops and retreats are focused on healing foods, food as medicine, herbalism, plant medicine, love plants, foraging, different things like that, and just really connecting to our ancestors.”

In the state of Minnesota, you have to have a commercial kitchen to work out of in order to get a license. City Food Studio allows culinary entrepreneurs such as food truck operators, caterers, manufacturers, and hobbyists to rent out the space on an hourly basis. Cunningham says close to 100 entrepreneurs have used the City Food Studio space over the years to grow their businesses.

She notes her classes in food business for the Neighborhood Development Center have recently skyrocketed in popularity.

“And as we know, that's one of the industries that took the hardest hit from the pandemic. And interestingly enough it's also the course that has the most interest. I feel like the pandemic, and also the murder of George Floyd, has sparked something where people are ready to disrupt everything in their lives to change the way things are, because they don't want to keep building someone else up instead of themselves.”

The 5000 sq ft building is located at 3722 Chicago Avenue. Cunningham was born down the block, attended church in the area as a child, and visited relatives who also had homes in the vicinity. Now known as George Floyd Square, Cunningham says tourists regularly come to visit. But she says economic support for surrounding businesses does not match the influx of visitors that now frequent the area.

“This community needs more support from the surrounding community,” she said. “As far as patronizing the businesses that are here. I think there's a need for access to capital for the businesses that are here. So that we can improve what we have, so we can build up, so we can build out these businesses, so we can make improvements to the spaces themselves. I think a lot of businesses, especially Black owned businesses, need that type of support.”

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