Salt Lake County is the first county in the country to receive a “Certified Welcoming” label from Welcoming America, a nonprofit supporting communities that welcome immigrants. Maybe this is part of the reason why.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s data, the foreign-born population of Salt Lake County grew from about 116,000 to about 139,000 between 2012 and 2016—more than 12 percent of people in Salt Lake County were born outside the United States.
“In 2001, I was one of those immigrants,” says Lavanya Mahate.
Now she owns seven businesses in Salt Lake County. She’s former director of the Women’s Business Center at the Salt Lake Chamber, has 15 years years of nonprofit and for-profit business development and management and owns six brick and mortar establishments: three Saffron Valley restaurants, Biscotts Pastry and Chai & Dhanya Spice Store.
Her latest venture is Saffron Kitchen, Inc., a program that combines her experiences as a successful restaurateur and as a newcomer to this country. In collaboration with the State of Utah and other community partners, Mahate is developing a free training program to teach refugees and disadvantaged youth culinary skills so they can enter the restaurant and hospitality industry.
It’s a culinary school of a special and rigorous kind.
Their cuisine is often the only thing immigrants bring with them to this country—but how many restaurants (ethnic and otherwise) have been started by people from other countries who know how to cook, but don’t know how to run an American business?
Saffron Kitchen aims to teach both. Students will be selected through a competitive interview and application process.
Working chefs will teach kitchen skills; those will be augmented by business workshops and paid internships, mentorship and job placement with partner restaurants. Each student will be matched with a seasoned chef or industry professional to coach them through career development.
“Our goal is to have trained 250 participants in five years of operation,” says Mahate.
Sounds ambitious and optimistic, but Mahate is used to making things succeed and in this case, she has a hungry audience—not only do refugees need jobs, the restaurant industry desperately needs them. The nationwide shortage of restaurant workers is one of the biggest problems in the food industry today.
“We plan on opening mid-November at SLCC Meadowbrook campus and starting classes the first week in January,” says Mahate.