LITTLE VILLAGE — The Southwest Side will soon have a place to take cooking classes and try out food business ideas at little to no cost.
Javier Haro, founder of the Latino-led Food He.ro, is opening a culinary school and food incubator in Little Village at 3331 W. 26th St. to expand the presence of Latinos and other people of color in the restaurant industry.
Food He.ro, founded in 2014, has been offering classes out of a West Loop location but is launching a physical space in October to expand services available to people on the Southwest Side, Haro said.
Haro said the school provides hands-on, bilingual training for certificates — an education path called “micro-credentialing,” providing a shorter path of schooling than two- or four-year programs.
“We want to meet people where they’re at,” said Haro, who was raised in Little Village. “Not everyone can afford the time of a two, three-year program.”
The 16-week culinary arts certificate helps train prospective chefs and cooks on food preparation, menu planning, supervising staff, food presentation and other skills for working in a kitchen, according to the website. It also includes on the job training with an employer, priced at $8,000, according to the website.
Culinary courses can be covered by grants through the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, Haro said. Food He.ro also partners with sponsors to help cover costs for folks who aren’t eligible for grants, Haro said.
Food He.ro is an approved private business or vocational school recognized by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Haro said. Students finish the programs with an industry-recognized culinary arts certificate, which means they are likely to be in a position to take on roles in the field that pay higher than minimum wage, he said.
Haro also said the school exposes people to a variety of pathways available to them in the food industry. He said most people might think a traditional brick-and-mortar is the only way to be a business owner, but there’s also catering, pop-ups, street vending, mobile businesses and more.
“Sometimes owning a business doesn’t look attainable,” Haro said. “But there are so many food landscapes that people don’t know about.”
In addition to an expansive kitchen space to hold classes, the first floor of the building will include a small grocery store with fresh produce, packaged meals, meals tailored toward individuals’ medical conditions and a to-go counter, Haro said.
Haro said the mercadito is somewhat of an expansion of Food He.ro program Cocina Rx, which came about during the pandemic to offer fresh meals to Black and Brown neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 because of chronic illnesses.
Outside of the culinary school classes, Haro said he’ll also offer cooking classes for individuals, couples and families.
Food entrepreneurs in the area will also be able to use the kitchen space outside of class hours, Haro said. People who are looking to start their own food business and need a kitchen to pilot their idea will be able to rent out space temporarily, he said.
The building’s top floor will be multifunctional, Haro said. Folks could use it for pop-ups, celebrations, community meetings or even as a “mock-restaurant” setting for students to practice what they’ve learned.
“It’s good for the community to know there’s always going to be something good coming out of here,” he said.
Haro said he hopes to open in mid-October.
Anyone looking to learn more about opportunities at Food He.ro should go to its website.
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