Somerville, MA

Contact Name
Rachel Strutt
Project Dates
2005-present
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2015
Tags
Event, Workforce Development, Networking
Nibble is the Arts Council's ongoing culinary/cultural project, which includes market tours, cooking classes (primarily taught by members of immigrant community), pop-up restaurants, food festivals, a blog, a book, and starting in 2015, a Nibble Entrepreneurship Program (NEP). NEP is an 8-week series of workshops for members of the immigrant community on how to get started in the food business; it is also a mentoring/networking program. Collectively, Nibble offers inclusive cultural programming, fosters cultural interchange, promotes cultural tourism and creates task force development.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
The goals of Nibble are:
- offer inclusive cultural programming
-foster cultural interchange through rich and experiential programming
-promote cultural tourism
-create task force development
-cultivate and protect Somerville's immigrant community in the face of increasing gentrification
-end goal #1: creation of a restaurant in Union Square area with rotation chefs that graduate from our Nibble entrepreneurship program
-end goal #2: creation of a Union Square food emporium that offers one over-arching space for immigrant-run food markets and a kitchen space for food demos and cooking classes
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Since we began our ArtsUnion project (Nibble is just one component of this much larger cultural economic initiative), the square has changed considerably. Upscale restaurants have moved into Union Square and are thriving; and residential real estate has skyrocketed. Now the key goals are: 1) how to continue to generate foot traffic for ethnic restaurants and retail that still need support, and 2) how to protect immigrants from getting priced out of the area by supporting existing businesses and creating new immigrant-run small culinary businesses.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
Key Nibble project partners include:
-Union Square markets and restaurants (markets featured on our market tours; restaurant owners have led cooking classes and are leading workshops in our culinary entrepreneurship program)
-Kitchen Inc., Union Square's culinary incubator (where cooking classes, pop up restaurants and culinary entrepreneurship program are held)
-The Mayor's Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development (SAC and OSPCD believe that urban planning and arts programming will play a symbiotic role in fostering economic development for the area.)
-SomerViva, the city's multi-lingual communications department (help with outreach)
-Accion (help with outreach and will lead workshop in culinary entrepreneurship program)
-The Welcome Project (help with outreach and translation)
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
As already stated, increasing gentrification and soaring rents are pushing lower-income residents and business owners out of the city. Once the Green Line is extended to Union Square, this trend will intensify. Nibble strives to support existing ethnic-run businesses (markets and restaurants) while fostering new immigrant-run culinary businesses. Working with OSPCD, the city is committed to protecting what we see as a key attribute to the square: diversity. The long-term goal of Nibble and our culinary entrepreneurship program is to create: 1) creation of a restaurant in Union Square area with rotation chefs that graduate from our Nibble entrepreneurship program and/or 2) creation of a Union Square food emporium that offers one over-arching space for immigrant-run food markets and a kitchen space for food demos and cooking classes. The Arts Council has already formed a partnership with US2, the recently hired master developers for Union Square. We have taken members of the development team on a market tour and pitched the idea of food emporium with a focus on immigrant cuisine. So far, this relationship has been positive and we will continue to push for cultural/culinary diversity in the physical landscape of Union Square.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
La Cocina, a shared kitchen space in San Francisco, has served as a helpful model, especially with our entrepreneurship program.

Union Square Donuts, a hugely popular and successful business in the city, serves as a model for how small-scale businesses can grow out of a space like Kitchen Inc, the square's culinary incubator. And in general, so many of the area's successful immigrant-run culinary businesses (featured on our tours, in our Nibble book, etc.), serve as great examples of how success is possible and lend so much to the cultural-economic engine of our city.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
When we first were awarded an MCC-funded grant for our ArtsUnion project in 2005, we began by assessing the assets of Union Square. We saw that diversity -- especially as reflected in the culinary landscape -- as a key asset. So food programming (Nibble) has been a key component of our ArtsUnion programming. Nibble has grown over the years, with one success leading to and informing another aspect of the programming. The chronology has been:
-launched walking tours of international markets in 2005
-developed a printed brochure to international markets in 2006
-launched Nibble blog in 2010, which promotes culinary tourism in the area
-launched our annual "Ignite" street food festival
-published 132-page color Nibble book in 2012
-launched our cooking class series in 2012
-held our first pop-up restaurant in 2014
-we are launching our culinary entrepreneurship workshop series in January of 2015

Specific steps taken for cooking classes, pop-ups, and entrepreneurship program:
Cooking classes: located a kitchen space and formed a partnership with Kitchen Inc., Union Square's culinary incubator; recruited teachers and developed class series; promoted classes; set up online payment system; developed protocol at Kitchen; provide feedback for teachers

Pop-ups: Working with one of our Nibble cooking class teachers, launched a series of pop-up restaurants (two dinners, one breakfast); this involved creating a business plan (estimating costs, hours of labor, promotion, rental charges, tickets prices, etc); promotion; creation of largely volunteer staff; securing liquor permit; evaluating success of each pop-up and tweaking business plan accordingly for future pop ups

Culinary Entrepreneurship Program: Extensive research of other existing programs; development of workshop curriculum; lining up speakers for our various workshops, ranging on topics from permitting to how to tailor family recipes for restaurant production; recruitment, involving translation and extensive partnering with various city departments and NGOs; creating syllabus; determining which students are most appropriate for program
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
With classes, we often ask our students for feedback via mail chimp questionnaires and in-class questions; we then offer this feedback to our teachers; we have created a overarching guidelines sheet for all teachers; in early Jan. 2015, we are offering a class specifically for our teachers on how to teach a successful class. We also have refined our class schedule; for example, we now offer a snack at the beginning of each class as we have learned students get hungry during class; we have also established the tradition of each class ending with a big sit-down dinner.

With pop-ups, we are constantly evaluating success of each pop-up and tweaking business plan accordingly for future pop ups. Kitchen Inc. has been especially helpful in evaluation of business models and development of business plans. We also solicit feedback from our attendees.

Entrepreneurship program: This is a pilot program so we will be taking careful notes along the way so we can refine the model. Each student will have a final project (teaching a class, holding a pop-up, vending food at one of our events) with the goal being we will sit down with each students to give a final evaluation of their project.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Language is an obstacle. Our "star" cooking class teacher for example, speaks very little English, putting the burden on us (we do have some foreign language skills) to negotiate for her when communicating with Kitchen, Inc. Transportation is also an issue. This same teacher doesn't have a car for example. So we are left to help her transport all her cooking supplies back and forth to the kitchen. We want to empower our partners in the immigrant community, but not enable them to be dependent on us.

Regarding the Entrepreneurship Program, we envision an obstacle will be ensuring good attendance and completion of final projects.

With all our Nibble programming, projects often require long hours on nights and weekends so we need to be careful of project overload and potential burn out.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Re: obstacles listed above. We have made it a requirement that all participants selected for our Culinary Entrepreneurship Program need to be enrolled in an ESL class or program. We now work the cost of taxis into our business plans, so we are not required to play taxi all the time.

Re: entrepreneurship program, there is a fee required for the workshop series (with financial aid available) because we believe students will take the program more seriously and attend all sessions if there is a fee required. This program, beyond curriculum and panel presentations from industry experts, will function as a mentoring program. Each student will work closely with one of our mentors (SAC staffers, board members and OSPCD staffers); this system will encourage accountability and completion of final projects.

Re: long hours. We are continuing to enable our teachers and pop-up chefs to work more independently of us. Taxis is one example, and when dealing with earned income, we will now let our pop-up chefs to negotiate and pay rental fees directly with Kitchen Inc. (ie., we will be stepping out more and more as "middle man."). Continue to recruit more volunteers.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Start by assessing assets of an area then build your project accordingly. Build slowly and organically so your project is refined over time based on successes, challenges and failures. Don't be afraid of failure. Learn from it! I think chronology and development of our Nibble programming exemplifies how to build a program like this.
2 Empower all partners to be real stakeholders so they take pride in project and want to ensure its success as much as you do. Be generous in praise. Be inclusive -- when working with partners/cultural producers -- but also by including the public as much as possible. With our pop-ups, for example, we thank all our diners for taking part in a cultural-economic experiment. So diners not only enjoy an authentic exotic meal, they feel they are helping propel someone's career. We are creating an inclusive and supportive "club" of Nibble devotees.
3. Promotion is key. You can create great programming, but if people don't know about it, it won't be a success. Promotion channels keep changing and you need to stay on top of things to remain relevant and reach people. This means keeping abreast of social media trends - but also creating flyers in various languages to reach a broad swath of the public.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
Our project has hugely shaped affected placemaking Union Square. The area used to be tired and overlooked; it is now brimming with culturally diverse and rich vitality. By cultivating the cultural diversity of the square through our Nibble programming, market and restaurant owners report improved bottom lines (we can give stats on this). We have employed numerous members of the immigrant community. Estela Calzada, for example, has earned thousands of dollars through teaching cooking classes, holding pop ups and vending at our festivals. Our cooking classes regularly sell out and bring out-of-towners to the square. Our food festivals, like "Ignite," draws thousands to the square and puts our city's culinary diversity in the spotlight. Our Nibble programming has been featured extensively in the media, including features in the Boston Globe and on WGHB TV. The perception of Union Square is now up-and-coming, not down and out. We have achieved this by enhancing existing cultural assets within Union Square. Longterm, we are working closely with OSPCD and Union Square master developers US2 to ensure that culinary diversity will always be a priority in the square.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
See answer above. What's more, our cooking instructors are able to share their culture with the Somerville community at large. This has been hugely rewarding to watch. Our cooking classes and pop-ups have been like small cross-cultural love-ins. We are developing a following; class attendees come back for a second helping -- whether it's another class or a pop-up restaurant.
How did you measure this success or progress?
-Questionnaires at or following cooking classes
-follow-up meetings after each pop-up
-analysis of which classes sell well and quickly
-sales numbers from our Nibble book
-# of readers of our NIbble blog (over 45,000 visitors in total) and assessment of which posts are most popular
-assessing number of visitors at large-scale food festivals like Ignite and holding follow-up meetings to take notes for following year
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
None other than impacts listed in above answers.
CCX Workshop Handout