Community Commercial Kitchen for Street Vendors

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Street vending is an incredibly important part of the cultural fabric of  Brownsville and across the border. It is very common to see vendors traveling by car, van, bicycle, and even on foot to offer their empanadas, tamales, dulce manzanas, and other delicious, homemade foods at local businesses. Unfortunately, city ordinances do not allow most forms of street vending in Brownsville, making it difficult for families to preserve the tradition of food vending in our community, and diminishing opportunities for micro-entrepreneurship. As part of Las Imaginistas research for Taller de Permiso, we learned many local street vendors choose to operate without proper permitting and simply absorb fines by the city, because they find the permitting process to be unclear, or difficult to navigate. Moreover, while some vendors would like to establish a traditional brick and mortar business, most prefer to work on a smaller scale, and lack the resources and capacity to purchase the equipment necessary to operate a commercial kitchen.

Throughout the Taller de Permiso program, participants have expressed interest in creating a community commercial kitchen.  People who have attended our events, participated in our business incubation programs, or contributed to our focus groups have expressed interest in creating a shared kitchen space that could serve the Buena Vida neighborhood and low income vendors looking to start their own food business.   

Creating a community commercial kitchen has many advantages. By creating a large shared space that has passed all the local regulations for food preparation, a community commercial kitchen would allow vendors who otherwise could not afford to build their own commercial kitchen to cook in a properly regulated space for a fraction of the cost.  This space would welcome local street vendors to gather and prepare their food items for a day of business, and would highlight traditional Mexican elements and cooking utensils while meeting the city's requirements for stainless steel materials.

Understanding the great benefit that this shared commercial space would offer to the community, Las Imaginistas included it as part of their presentation to the City Commission in January of 2019.  As a result of this presentation Las Imaginistas were invited to partner with the Brownsville Wellness Coalition and the City of Brownsville to co-develop the Cannery, a brick and mortar hub for the Brownsville farmers market and home to Brownsville’s first community commercial kitchen open to the general public.   

It is our hope that the market will pay tribute to the legacy of mobile vendors in the region through the aesthetics and programming at the future space. Included in the design ideas proposed by Las Imaginistas and the Brownsville Wellness Coalition for the future space are papel picado, traditional cooking resources like metates and molcajetes, community murals and a visual timeline showing the history of culinary traditions in our border space. Construction for the future market and commercial kitchen will begin in the quonset hut located at the edge of the Buena Vida Neighborhood by Linear Park, later this year.

Nansi Guevara