Veena Prasad is a cultivator of potential. She adeptly identifies hidden skills and sees how they overlap with market needs, which led her to start Project Feast. Incorporated in January 2013, the organization has a mission to help immigrant and refugee cooks find sustainable employment in the food industry. They are off to an impressive start, with more than 150 people who have attended one of their cooking classes, more than 3500 guests who have eaten their food at catered events, and 20 people who have gone through their 6-week training program. And all of this was done with less than $5,000 investment! They recently participated in the Health Enterprise Development Initiative (HEDI) and this is the last post in the interview series with HEDI participants.
Tell me about Project Feast.
Project Feast is a nonprofit social enterprise with a mission to empower refugee and immigrants through commercial kitchen training and opportunities for hands on experience. We work with cooks from countries including Iraq, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mexico to create economic opportunity and social empowerment. We also provide a platform for cross-cultural interactions through our catering business and cooking classes.
What difference are you trying to make in the food system?
Food is our medium to bring people together. We are increasing access to various global cuisines and presenting them in a way that is accessible, allowing eaters to learn more about other cultures, meet people from these countries and begin to understand and learn about what is happening in their countries. We are also training immigrant and refugee cooks to find sustainable employment in the food industry.
What goals do you have for the project?
We are going to continue to offer our 6-week training a few times a year with the goal of bringing on 5-10 apprentices after they complete the training. They will be offered paid work to continue to work in the business and hone their skills in the commercial kitchen. They will also be exposed to other aspects of running a food business.
We also want to increase the way we consciously spread the cultures that our graduates represent, increasing the larger Seattle community’s understanding of what is happening in other areas of the world. If someone is having Burmese food for the first time, we want them to not only enjoy the food but ask why they haven’t had it before and what is happening in that country that we have refugees.
We also have the audacious goal of being 100% self sustaining through our catering and cooking classes within 5 years. We have some ideas on how to make this happen, but it is still an open question as to how we can do so in a way that ensures we are keeping true to our mission.
How has HEDI helped you refine your business model?
HEDI forced us to think through what we’ve done so far and where we want to go. Luni’s business model format helped us to determine what we had in place and what was missing in order to get us where we want to be. We are now more confident that we can ultimately get to 100% financial sustainability, but realize we have some work to do in developing our revenue generation models.
It was also helpful to put together an investor pitch and get feedback from my cohort and potential investors. I plan to use the pitch to get funding in the future.
What advice do you have for other nonprofit social enterprises?
Nonprofits could get more comfortable with business being a core aspect of what they do and learn how to earn revenue, not just grants. There is a perception that nonprofits shouldn’t earn money but it is possible to maintain the connection between earned revenue and the change you want to create in the world. It isn’t always easy to come up with that model, but focusing on your mission is a great place to start. For us, catering is how we make money, but it is also how people get hands on experience and exposure to running a business, all important pieces of our mission.