Creating food entrepreneurs one fork (or tenedor) at a time along historic Route 66
A food incubator program in Oklahoma is giving future business owners the ability and resources to test out their concepts.
Known as Kitchen 66, the program has supported more than 150 businesses, including new businesses founded by immigrants from 10 countries.
More than half of Kitchen 66 entrepreneurs are women, and recent alumni have represented Guyana, Venezuela, Mexico, Ecuador, Canada, Vietnam, the United Kingdom, and Ghana. It’s funded by the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation.
Last year, a Spanish-language version of the program called Cocina 66 was launched. The programs are located within Mother Road Market, Oklahoma’s first nonprofit food hall along historic Route 66 in Tulsa.
“Food connects us, and sharing a meal is one of the best ways to learn about another person and their culture. We hope Mother Road Market brings those connections to Tulsans and visitors alike along Route 66,” said Elizabeth Frame Ellison, president and CEO of the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation.
One success story is that of Doctor Kustom, a concept that started as a food truck celebrating the owners, Alex and Gi Figueira, heritage and love of Brazilian food.
It was the first and only Brazilian food truck in Tulsa, and early on, the couple was asked to participate in Kitchen 66’s Takeover Cafe at Mother Road Market.
“To our surprise, from day one, we had incredible visibility and were able to present our food to a much larger number of people,” said Alex.
After working their food truck for a year, the couple set up shop at Mother Road Market.
“We opened our store, in the midst of the pandemic and, even with all the difficulties at the beginning, we had incredible support from the whole team, guiding us and always leading us to the best results and helping us to grow as a company,” Alex said.
“In addition, [Mother Road Market] gave us the chance to participate in projects that benefit the community. We can say, in fact, that being here and being part of this team, for us, is the realization of a dream.”
At Doctor Kustom, everything is made from scratch. The menu is set with fan favorites like the pastel and picanha sandwich but also features Brazilian specialties on occasion.
“Without a doubt, the best part of being in the food business is serving food that has been prepared with so much love and dedication and seeing your customer come back, and say they loved it, and come back again and again,” Alex said, adding that Brazilian food is new to many of the customers.
The food hall is known for a variety of cuisines. Mother Road Market also includes local retail and a general store featuring Tulsa and Oklahoma-sourced products.
And what makes Mother Road Market so appealing? It provides access to space and opportunity to test with customers before launch and scale, which helps make businesses more successful.
“We build an environment that celebrates ‘fast failure’ so that entrepreneurs can pivot quickly to a successful model. The fact that only 4.4% of the businesses launched at Mother Road Market have closed/scaled back is a testament to our ability to decrease barriers,” Frame Ellison said.
“Many of our entrepreneurs are people of color and female, and we are proud that our programs are reducing the additional challenges underestimated entrepreneurs face.”