Columbia Pike’s newest nonprofit, La Cocina VA, was well known for its impressive bilingual culinary training program. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization provided hands-on, in-person training for low income individuals on various jobs within the food industry. After training was complete, the organization would also assist in finding careers for the program’s participants.

That has all changed over the past year. With restrictions on in-person gatherings and a steady decline in job availability in the food industry, La Cocina VA had to adapt. The organization has developed what it calls the Culinary Small Business Incubator program.

“Our goal has always been to eliminate the barriers that stand in the way of people finding meaningful career paths,” says La Cocina VA’s Director of Operations & Programs Daniela Hurtado. “While we’re disappointed that our original culinary training program is on hold, we’re excited to be breaking down those barriers that keep people from following their dreams of starting their own business.”

The incubator program certainly seems to do just that by providing three distinct pathways for program participants: SBI Signature, SBI Express, and SBI Shared Kitchen.

SBI Signature is a 9-week course designed to provide low-income entrepreneurs with everything they need to launch their own culinary business. From high-level concepts such as developing a business plan all the way down to the nitty gritty of filing your company name with the State Corporation Commission, they really mean “everything!” If you have an idea, but don’t know where to start, this is the program for you.

SBI Express is available for those that don’t quite need that level of assistance. Low-income entrepreneurs that are ready to get in the kitchen can find discounted rental rates along-side one-on-one consulting and mentorship opportunities to help perfect their operations.

The final SBI pathway is the one that has been receiving the most attention lately. SBI Shared Kitchen, which led to the Ghost Kitchen concept, provides members access to La Cocina VA’s state-of-the-art kitchen to run their business. You may have heard of their first Ghost Kitchen client recently: Queen Mother’s Restaurant

When Chef Rock Harper left the virtual food hall Ghostline late last year, he began searching for a new kitchen space. He found that at La Cocina VA. Chef Harper now cooks up his famous fried chicken sandwiches in the Shared Kitchen. Orders are taken online through Queen Mother’s own point of sale system for pick-up at The Café by La Cocina where the café staff serve as the front of house for Queen Mother’s leaving Chef Harper to focus on cooking up good food.

La Cocina VA’s shared kitchen is perfect for chefs or caterers looking to eliminate overhead costs like rent during these difficult times. 

“We’re so excited to have Chef Harper here,” said Hurtado. “And we can’t wait to see what other businesses join us in the future.”

Helping to fund these programs is The Café by La Cocina VA alongside state and local grants, corporate sponsorships, and individual donations. The Café, now serving beer and wine, was launched last year to help move La Cocina VA one-step closer to being self-sufficient and less reliant on grants that are becoming more scarce every day. It has also helped the organization continue to provide employment opportunities and give back to the community. La Cocina VA has partnered with numerous organizations over the past year to provide meals to those in need. Last Thanksgiving, La Cocina VA partnered with Latinas 4 Latinas to provide more than 200 Latino families in need with holiday meals. For Christmas and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, they partnered with Islamic Relief US to provide 1,500 meals to those in need!

Currently, they are working with the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) to provide 100 meals each week to A-SPAN’s homeless services center through hypothermia season.

To learn more about the organization and its programs visit