El Pajaro CDC in the News

Kitchen of Dreams
From green waffles to bone broth, a Watsonville incubator is producing some of Santa Cruz County’s most innovative culinary entrepreneurs

(Excerpt from Good Times Santa Cruz)

As I’m handed a pea green waffle, I’m reminded a little bit of Dr. Seuss. The warm, toasted pastry is almost savory, with a delicate sweetness, and Blanca Madriz, who co-owns the Green Waffle with her husband Martin, explains that it contains just five ingredients: egg whites, oats, banana, and spinach, with additions of either blueberry, yam or cauliflower.

“They can be eaten as breakfast waffles with honey and fresh fruit,” she explains. “They can also be eaten as sandwiches with egg and cheese, regular cold cut meats, or vegetarian. We have even made green waffle pizza.”

Madriz and her husband launched their business just a few months ago, but it almost didn’t get off the ground…

Read the full March 17, 2016 Good Times Santa Cruz cover story here.

Click here to learn more about the Commercial Kitchen Incubator.

Santa Cruz County No. 4 in nation for women starting a
business: NerdWallet
›By Jondi Gumz, Santa Cruz Sentinel

CRUZ >> When Ruthann Illick, Linda Ortega and Jessie Sanders went into
business for themselves, they were in good company.

Santa Cruz County ranks third among metro areas in the U.S. with 3.95 women-owned businesses per 100 residents, behind Boulder, Colorado, and Miami-Fort Lauderdale, according to NerdWallet, a personal finance website.

As a result, NerdWallet rated Santa Cruz County as the fourth best place in the nation for a woman to set up a business even though the county is 13th in median annual income for women at $47,412 and 65th in loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration per 100,000 residents.

At El Pajaro Community Development Corporation in Watsonville, which nurtures startups and operates a kitchen incubator, 62 percent of the clients are…

read more here

Kitchen cooks up economic opportunity

By Donna Jones

Santa Cruz Sentinel

POSTED: 07/29/2013 05:13:27 PM PDT

WATSONVILLE — One bite of a tiny taco stuffed with My Mom’s Mole, and Claudia Viek was sold on the powdered mix created by Cesario Ruiz.
“Where can I buy this?” asked Viek, chief executive officer of the California Association of Micro Enterprise Opportunity.
Nowhere, yet. But Ruiz hopes that will change soon.

The Santa Cruz man was one of several aspiring entrepreneurs offering samples of their fare Monday to the nearly 150 people celebrating the grand opening of a commercial kitchen operated by El Pajaro Community Development Corp.

The Riverside Drive kitchen’s 10 stations are available for rent on an hourly basis with the goal of giving micro-entrepreneurs a place to cook up success without the overhead of acquiring equipment or leasing more space than they need to get started.

With Watsonville’s unemployment rate of 17 percent in June…


A Recipe for a Brighter Future



Creating Opportunity: Watsonville’s New Commercial Kitchen Incubator

For years, Cesario Ruiz dreamed of starting a food business, but he sat on the idea because he wasn’t sure how to make it happen.
This all changed when he heard about a project under way at El Pajaro Community Development Corporation (EPCDC) in Watsonville. On Monday, July 29, the nonprofit debuted its commercial kitchen incubator—more than 8,000 square feet of professional kitchen space where aspiring food entrepreneurs can make their culinary dreams a reality.

“This is something I’ve always been thinking of, but never had the opportunity to even know how to start,” says Ruiz, who managed a New Leaf Community Market kitchen for the past four years and has worked in food service for the last 17. “In this program, where they guide you from step one to the end, it allows you to just go ahead and do it. You get so much support.”

For many like Ruiz, the cost of building or renting a commercial kitchen that meets health and safety regulations is just too high. According to EPCDC Board President Jorge Reguerin, a commercial kitchen can cost between $200,000 and $300,000.

“That’s a huge barrier to starting a business,” he says. As an agency focused on economic development for low-income residents, EPCDC aims for the incubator to squash this obstacle by offering 15 workstations that can be rented for $10-$30 an hour.

But space and equipment aren’t the only things the kitchen promises potential clients. It also offers a 13-week business plan course, training, and consultants with advice on handling, packaging, presentation and more. The wide-ranging assistance is what sets the project apart from other kitchen incubators around the country, says EPCDC Executive Director Carmen Herrera-Mansir.

“We aren’t a cooking school,” she says, “but we provide education and technical assistance to clients. Understanding pricing and costs is a main problem our food entrepreneurs have, for instance, so we teach about that.”

Upon learning of the project, Ruiz quit his job to launch a line of mole—a traditional Mexican sauce that is made extra hot in his hometown of Guanajuato, Mexico. His mole will be crafted from scratch, just like his mother made it, and will come as a dry product that people adjust to whatever thickness and spiciness they desire. He hopes to have it in local stores soon.

“I haven’t seen anything out there in the market like it and I’m really excited about it,” he says. “Every time I go to the market and try to look for good quality products, nowadays all products are filled with processed foods and additives. Mine will be made from scratch from good ingredients.”

The incubator is for clients, like Ruiz, who are serious about starting a food business, says Herrera-Mansir. “It’s not for people who are just doing it as a hobby,” she says.

As the kitchen neared its opening—after nearly a decade of bouncing around the EPCDC as an idea—the enthusiastic waiting list grew to include 60 people ranging from their 20s to 80 years old, with business plans revolving around everything from pastries and handmade tortillas to salads, salsas and uniquely packaged fruit.

Farmers’ markets will be a “natural outlet” for the products made by clients, says Reguerin, as will local stores that are purveyors of regional products. He adds that community will have a chance to attend food tastings, cook offs, and open houses at the kitchen down the line, and that local agencies and nonprofits will be able to use the space as a demonstration kitchen for classes on healthy cooking. They have also partnered with The Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), whose organic farmers use part of the building for shipping and receiving.

The EPCDC’s key objective in opening the kitchen is to spark homegrown economic development in an area—Watsonville—with an unemployment rate that is stuck at over 20 percent.

“Our hope is that the incubator will be the starting ground for food-related businesses that will grow into entities that employ local people and utilize local products,” Reguerin says.

Food seemed like a natural avenue for this economic project based on several factors, says Herrera-Mansir. The organization noted that 40 percent of its clients expressed interest in beginning a food business, and that the farming community is increasingly looking to make value-added products. Additionally, there are food skills left over in the community from when Watsonville had a processing food industry, and the food movement in recent years has made artisan and local food companies more viable.

“This is the future of the country, focusing on local and supporting community through whatever thing you do,” says Ruiz. Like anyone embarking on the rigorous and straining path of starting a food business, Ruiz knows that these businesses don’t always work out. But with help from the commercial kitchen incubator, he says, at least hopeful food entrepreneurs will have the support to give it a shot.

“I don’t want to find myself 10 years from today and say ‘what if?’” he says. “I really want to go for it, and if it works, great. If it doesn’t, I can still say I did it. I can say I tried.”