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Spice Kitchen Incubator — a multifaceted program that would teach refugees, immigrants and others how to succeed in the food business — is much closer to reality after obtaining space for a commercial kitchen on State Street.

Refugees and others arrive in this country with a knowledge of recipes from around the world. But they likely are unaware of state and federal laws surrounding food handling or the complexities of running a business in this country, according to Ze Min Xiao of Salt Lake County Refugee Services and Natalie El-Deiry of International Rescue Committee.

As the pair explain it, the food and restaurant business is one of the easiest for immigrants to enter. But also is one of the most difficult in which to succeed.

Spice Kitchen Incubator would teach them the ropes and, hopefully, set them on the path to wholesale food production or restaurant ownership. The program is modeled after La Cocina, a renown kitchen incubator in San Francisco.

This week, Xiao and El-Deiry announced a partnership between Spice Kitchen Incubator and Salt Lake City businessman Thomas Lee to establish a commercial teaching kitchen at 627 S. State.

The project continues to seek private-sector backers to help finance construction of a 4,000-square-foot facility at the State Street site that includes a commercial kitchen, classroom and dining space. It is also in need of commercial kitchen equipment.

Lee said he joined the project because his father, who is an immigrant, tried unsuccessfully three times before finally opening a successful restaurant.

"As an immigrant you have few resources," he said. "I look at my father's struggles and wonder if he would have done better if there had been an incubator kitchen."

Xiao and El-Deiry had earlier proposed to Salt Lake City that an incubator kitchen be set up in the basement of The Leonardo, 209 E. 500 South. But the idea proved to be fraught with both financial and physical challenges.

The Salt Lake City Council did, however, set aside $100,000 for food incubator programs. Such funding, however, is subject to the rigors of the city's grant proposal process.

Salt Lake City Council Chairman Kyle LaMalfa said the city is intent on fostering small, locally owned businesses — including restaurants. The cultural richness provided by locally owned restaurants helps attract big business to Utah's capital city, he said.

For more information on the Spice Kitchen Incubator go to or call 801-883-8455.

Learn more about Spice Kitchen Incubator

O For more information on the program, which aims to teach refugees how to succeed in Utah's food business, go to or call 801-883-8455.