pathways to food entrepreneurship start with a simple prototype

A Multicultural Food Pop-up: “Caritas Village on Broad!”

Flora Elisa has been cooking ever since she was a little girl in Sudan. Growing up, her community often cooked and ate together, so she was taught at a very young age how to cook for a lot of people, primarily by her mother. When war broke out across her home country, she was forced to flee and spent five years in a refugee camp. Now here in Memphis, Flora’s dream is to run a catering business where she can once again cook her traditional foods for large gatherings with her business partner, CC Deng.

Recently, at the Broad Avenue Fall Art Walk, Little Bird activated a vacant restaurant to create a one night only multicultural food pop-up called “Caritas Village on Broad.” The event raised funds for Caritas Village’s million-dollar campaign and featured five Binghampton food entrepreneurs from Mexico, Nepal, Kenya, and Sudan.

Aromas of dumplings, hot soup and cornbread, tamales, sambusa, chapati, and hamburgers greeted customers as they stepped into the space. After piling their plates with foods from around the world, patrons made themselves comfortable on the patio, listening to live music, before heading back out to peruse local art.

The pop-up yielded over 200 transactions and more than $2,000 in sales. It was such a big hit with Art Walk patrons that all the food entrepreneurs sold out of their delicious offerings. When asked how she felt about her success, Flora expressed her happiness that so many Americans bought the food that she and CC made, giving her hope to pursue her catering dream. Not only did she and CC earn more than $500, but they walked away knowing people in Memphis want their food.

To Flora and the other four entrepreneurs, food is not only a desirable way to make money, but a way to celebrate and share their cultures. However, new Americans face unique challenges as entrepreneurs. Partnering with community groups like Caritas Village and the Broad Avenue Arts District, Little Bird planned the pop-up as a live prototype to remove barriers for refugee and immigrant food entrepreneurs and to test the concept of a multicultural food market in Binghampton.

The event was planned in only one week. With just a banner, a few signs and menus, and a lot of hard work and elbow grease, Little Bird proved that a multicultural food market is a unique value proposition that is currently lacking in Memphis. In addition, local food entrepreneurs gained exposure to new customers and people donated over $400 to Caritas Village.

The event also served as a prototype to observe the impact of creative placemaking combining food, art, and culture on creating community cohesion. For many, there is a perception that Broad Avenue and the rest of the neighborhood are divided. The multicultural pop-up was an intentional effort to bridge the gap for one night by bringing Caritas, a Binghampton community hub, and Binghampton’s diverse residents to a wider audience on Broad Avenue.

Learn more about Caritas Village and its work to break down barriers between disparate groups in Binghampton here, and read about the Broad Ave Arts District’s commitment to create a more inclusive and accessible Broad Avenue here. Follow the FreshLo project here as we continue to frame our learnings into a strategic plan to support new Americans in Binghampton to launch and sustain their food businesses.

In collaboration with Little Bird Innovation, the Binghampton Development Corporation (BDC) has been awarded a planning grant from the Kresge Foundation for their Fresh, Local & Equitable (FreshLo) initiative that seeks to foster economic vitality and cultural expression in low-income communities through food. Along with seven other local organizations, Little Bird and the BDC are exploring the specific needs of Binghampton’s refugee and immigrant populations to create a strategic support plan that will provide entrepreneurs with the tools necessary to grow their endeavors from concepts to thriving businesses.
Olivia Haslop works with the Binghampton Development Corporation (BDC) on the the FreshLo project. She is a Design Strategist at Little Bird with an interest in recombining and reconfiguring already existing assets in urban environments to create positive impact. Olivia is a graduate of the Social Design MA (MASD) at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and a huge fan of her hometown team, the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Want to learn more about Little Bird? Visit our website here.