Tag Archives: Nashville

Butterflies, Granola, and Seriously Strong Women

screenshot202016-11-032021-12-32My latest article in Edible Nashville is out at last! Once again I had the delight of writing the “food hero” piece for the issue, this time covering the marvelous women who make up the Blue Monarch recovery center.

Blue Monarch ladies1.jpg

granola-portraitThis center welcomes women who have been trapped in cycles of addiction and abuse to a beautiful farmhouse in Middle Tennessee where they can recuperate with their children. As part of their recuperation, the ladies are invited to work in the onsite industrial kitchen where they make…wait for it…granola! It is through this granola business that these women gain substantive work skills and honest paychecks which amount to, for many of them, completely novel experiences.

As it usually goes with these projects, I collected WAY more information and stories and photos than I could fit into a short article. I often leave these projects feeling like there is so much more I could have done to create awareness for the seriously wonderful work being done. In that spirit, I wanted to share with you the stories of two of the women who had been through the Blue Monarch recovery programming. Their testimonies speak to the radical transformation possible for people who otherwise feel trapped and helpless.

One of the amazing things about these stories is how ready these ladies were to tell them. Their histories are not pretty, to say the least. Their pain is prominent, but they’ve come so far and they take their memories in stride. They have seen how powerful their stories are in inspiring others; they don’t hold back from the messy details. When I arrived, they greeted me warmly with big smiles and immediately launched into stories of rape and overdoses. Those juxtaposed smiles startled me at first, but made much more sense when they got to their happy endings. If you had come that far, you’d be smiling too.

So here are the stories of Brandy and Donaree excerpted from an earlier draft. Enjoy.

“Looking at the stunning Blue Monarch campus, it is hard to imagine a better place to recover. Any visitor would be thrilled merely to relax on that porch. But for residents, Blue Monarch is nothing short of a miracle. Many arrive at Blue Monarch after living in cars or in homes plagued with abuse. Some of them were given the choice of Blue Monarch or a jail cell. Understandably, newcomers often burst into tears at the sight of the beautiful yellow home full of spacious rooms where they can care for their children in safety and rest—a luxury many of them never fathomed.

donaree-masters-1The Blue Monarch difference is especially evident in the ladies’ testimonies. Donaree Masters, a graduate who now runs the granola kitchen, was raised in an alcoholic home where she suffered physical and sexual abuse. In her mid-thirties, she began a twenty-year meth addiction that ended with her arrest. By the grace of God, she says, Blue Monarch accepted her into the program in 2013. Looking at her now, radiant and smiling, the very picture of health, you would never recognize the woman from her mugshot. “Even if I had never had my addiction,” she shares, “I could not be in a better spot than I am in now. The beauty of what happens here, seeing these women growing and learning—being here is a dream come true.”

brandy-granola-prepBrandy Wilson, a current resident soon to graduate, similarly beams with hope and wellness in spite of a childhood riddled with drugs and abuse. Removed by the state from her drug-infested home, Brandy spent her adolescence moving between thirteen different foster parents, some of whom molested her. When she turned eighteen, she moved in with her biological mother and together they would regularly get high on pills. This new ‘normal’ came to a traumatizing halt when Brandy returned from an errand to find her mother dead from an overdose in her car. Adding to her grief, Brandy’s continued drug use lead to many months in prison and losing custody of her daughter. Facing additional jail time after a broken house arrest, Brandy pleaded with the judge for help, for some alternative to falling back into the same patterns. Miraculously, the judge remembered Blue Monarch and allowed her to apply in lieu of further prison. Brandy, who was pregnant at the time, gave birth to her second daughter at Blue Monarch, and made enough progress to regain custody of her elder daughter while in the program. Brandy has since completed her GED, won scholarships to attend a local community college, and been baptized together with her seven-year-old.”

 

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Top Takeaways from STORY 2016!

cjz7l7guuaal6r1The STORY 2016 conference has come and gone! Those of us who attended the two-day gathering are now left to stew in the myriad of motivational messaging.

What is STORY? I’m actually still trying to figure it out. I suppose it is like Ted Talks aimed at creatives/artistically-minded folks, presenting them with an extensive lineup of speakers from various creative bents who share about their experiences and lessons they’ve learned so far in their work. The talks ranged from 10 minutes to 30 minutes or so, and were tightly packed with anecdotes to uphold the conference’s name. All told, the conference amounted to a serious pep talk for people doing creative work. Creatives sometimes (all the time) need that.

As I am constantly on a quest to learn more about story and storytelling, and because the conference this year was 15 minutes from my house, I made sure to attend. I collected many takeaways from the 20 different presentations and wanted to share them with you.

TOP TAKEAWAYS…

…on Motivation and Validation.
The first speaker, Brad Montague, filmmaker behind the Kid President sensation, really stole the show (almost too bad he went first). He talked about a line from one of the videos where Kid President asks, “What if Michael Jordan had quit? He never would have made Space Jam!” For Brad, this line started funny, but took on an insidious flavor when the video’s sensational popularity prompted Brad to ask, “Was this my Space Jam?” The idea haunted him. He knew he would crave more validation for his work to feel good. What he discovered, though, was that this was true of anyone…anyone…even Beyoncé…even Obama…both of whom finished their interviews with Kid President and asked, “Was that ok? I can do it again…” Brad is motivated by the idea that we each don’t just have one Space Jam, but can focus on our entire body of work over the course of our life. We can approach life with child-like wonder and enthusiasm and be better off for it. He asked, “Why does a child pick up a box of crayons? Because they like it. They want to make a present for their mom. They want to see what happens when they blend colors.” They create out of joy, and so should we. As Fred Rogers said, “We were all children once.”

…on Empathy and Experience.
Two ideas emerged from many of the speakers in what makes for better stories: the need for empathy and the need for personal experience. As Rick Rekedal, creative guru at Dreamworks, said, “The best stories are not just stories I like, but stories that are like me.” Hannah Brencher, a writer, put it this way:”Loneliness is at large today—we all need ‘me, too’ moments.” Stories work wonders for creating empathetic connections with audiences, but empathy requires personal knowledge of the experience being shared. Therefore, storytellers need to live life and not just talk about life. Casey Neistat brought this idea home with his story about getting fined $50 for riding his bike outside of the bike lane in New York City. The subsequent viral video resonated so deeply with so many people it even led to city-wide policy changes regarding bike use. Casey found an audience for this story because it was based on a real experience and created those “me, too!” moments.

…on Process and Getting Out of Our Own Way. 
Writer Hannah Brencher has no illusions regarding romance in being a writer. Her message was clear: creative work is a fight. It’s not personal, it’s business. “Your voice,” she says, “is not something that you find; it is something that is birthed.” This means that there is struggle involved, and that it will take time. I appreciate it when people acknowledge this, instead of glossing over the tough parts of creating to glory in the final product. Of course, it is easy to understand why they do that. They do not want to remember how much of a struggle it was, how much they got in their own way. Jason Jaggard, an executive coach, talked about the dark side of imagination, or the ways in which our mind can become extremely imaginative devising ways to tell us that we can’t do things. We have, as he described, somatic markers or instincts that protect us from the unknown. These keep us safe from danger, but they also keep us safe from opportunity. He suggested that we need to address these instincts and counteract them purposefully:
 a) We all long to look good. We overcome this by being willing to look foolish. 
     b) We all want to feel good. We overcome this by accepting pain as inevitable, and focusing on making something useful with those experiences. 
     c) We all want to be right, even when it means being right about our own perceived lack of abilities. We need to realize it might be good to be wrong about this. 

Overall, I can say I’ve come away from this conference motivated to work harder and strive for better focus. I will also say though that the conference content ended up being different than I had hoped it would be. Like I said, I am constantly on a quest to learn more about story and storytelling. Very little of the conference actually focused on narrative craft. How to become a better storyteller, and why the great stories we know and love are the great stories we know and love…this is what I crave. Please, readers, let me know if you have resources for me in my continued quest.

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How to Facilitate Epiphanies

Over the weekend my friend and I facilitated two, back-to-back, day-long design workshops (yes, I am still recovering, thanks). We worked with two nonprofits, one on Saturday and the other Sunday, and coached them through their respective complex design challenges using Design Thinking methodology. As grueling as it was to push through the mental blocks and exhaustion that comes with day-long brainstorming sessions, both groups came away jazzed and thinking totally differently about their respective problems than when they walked in that morning. So, SUCCESS!

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Design Thinking Phases

So what went right? We’ve been trying to figure it out. Replicating an epiphany-inducing process would be awesome, but were we just lucky? Not sure yet, but I can say that both days we saw a confluence of factors that led to brainwave breakthroughs:

  1. lit_match_by_blackhiveA Controlled Flare. At the beginning of each day, I made sure to emphasize that when Design Thinkers say, “Trust the Process,” what they want is to let the ideas flow, no matter how erratic, tangential, or numerous. If you look at the Design Thinking diagram above, you can see that some stages flare while others focus. The flare portion can make people nervous, especially people who like control and orderly meeting styles. But the trick is to welcome ideas, however radical or impractical. Only when you have a complete collection of all of the factors at play or all of the ideas in peoples’ heads can you make educated decisions about the best direction to pursue. For the facilitator in this process, think of a controlled forest fire; firemen stand by to ensure that the burning process does what it needs to do in order to cultivate the healthiest results.
  2. Creative Boundaries Make the Difference. Each sprint generated dozens and dozens of post-it note ideas. With each new wave of post-it tsunamis, we asked group members to categorize the post-its, summarize their categories, and prioritize their top ideas. It was fascinating as a facilitator to step back and watch brains work. Every time we asked this, the group would fall silent in extreme focus, and begin rearranging the post-its in trance-like movements. Within minutes they would generate categories out of chaos and, what’s more, could explain their new world order with confidence. By what power did they achieve this? I believe it has to do with setting creative boundaries. They say that limitations are the essence of art, and broadening this to any creative task, boundaries are the essence of creative work. The alternative, like saying “Anything is Possible,” can often leave us feeling paralyzed by the options. But just as rules make a game, boundaries work on our brains to shape our ideas into something real. As a facilitator, therefore, crafting questions that set creative boundaries becomes one of the most important tasks you have.
  3. diagramImagery and Metaphors Bring Cohesion. One of our groups was having trouble. They had so much they wanted to accomplish and had identified half a dozen audiences they wanted to help. At the same time, the collective gut feeling in the room was that their goals, as different as they appeared on paper, had something in common. Suddenly, someone suggested that what we wanted to provide was the “connective tissue” between the disparate audiences, like ligaments between muscles, and the group burst into smiles. We finally had an image to work from, and you could feel the tension in the room relax into pleasant excitement. We drew a couple of quick diagrams, and it sealed cohesion among the group members. As a facilitator, then, it is critical to try to help these images take shape. The whole process will benefit with better visuals.

 

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A New Edible Video!

I recently completed another video project for Edible Nashville Magazine, this time featuring The Grilled Cheeserie’s chef, Crystal De Luna-Bogan as she prepares her favorite way to eat watermelon–with chopped mint and a hibiscus lime granita. This dreamy fruit salad was the perfect treat for a sticky summer Saturday, and I had fun capturing the process on film. Check out EdibleNashville.com/recipes to make it yourself, and enjoy the video!

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My Latest Video Project: Behind the Scenes at The Cookery

It all started when this Australian man gave me free dessert.

Josh and I arrived at The Cookery two winters ago just after Christmas to find the doors locked. As we were walking away, an Aussie named Brett beckoned us back and made sure we didn’t go away empty handed. (The cake was AMAZING, by the way). This little God moment turned into a huge blessing for me as I have since been entrusted with telling The Cookery’s story twice, first for Edible Nashville Magazine, and now in the video below.

It has been an honor sharing the stories and communicating the vision of the remarkable eatery and ministry that is The Cookery. This unassuming cafe nestled on 12 South in the Edgehill neighborhood of Nashville is so much more than it seems. Inside formerly homeless men are getting a second chance at life. They live in community that is safe, their needs are met, and they go to work each day to learn the culinary arts, a trade that will enable them to once again become self-sufficient. It is a place of miracles. Watch and see.


 

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How Learning Improv Improves Your Life

Yes-And.jpgLast week I experienced my first foray into improvisational comedy. The meetup I help facilitate, Design Thinking Nashville, hosted an improv workshop and welcomed an instructor from LOL Nashville to teach us some basics of the comedy craft. The taste I got was definitely enough to make me want to keep going.

Why care about improv? Improv techniques are growing increasingly popular in business spheres as they provide much needed creative thrust. They train the brain to overcome inhibitions, to react quickly and fluidly to change, and to work well with others. Even just playing improv games for an hour made me feel invigorated, empowered, and less judgmental of myself and others. I left wishing I had something major and difficult to tackle that day; my brain was ready for anything.

There were three main takeaways from this experience. I hope they encourage you to think differently and maybe try out an improv class of your own!

  1. YES, AND…
    Improv and Design Thinking both operate on the principle that groups develop better ideas through what improv artists call the “Yes, And…” approach. This means accepting one person’s ideas and building on it collaboratively as a group. Does that mean you need to think it was a perfect idea? Not at all. It means that you are opening your mind to exploring possibilities. Nothing is held sacred, but neither is anything outright denounced. The alternative approach, with which many of us are infinitely more familiar, is to squash ideas the instant a fault is found. This crushes morale, reinforces hierarchical divisions within a group, and infringes on the potential for reaching better ideas by engaging openly in the process. Improv comedians must respond with “Yes, And…” to what ever gets thrown at them. There is no time to edit, no opportunity to critique. And who wants to watch that anyway? It is all about the fluid exchange of ideas, and this applies directly into any collaborative challenge, on stage or otherwise. My friend Tony said that the “Yes, And…”exercises revolutionized the make-believe he plays with his young daughter. It restrains him from questioning the premise of the imaginative play and instead go with the flow, which not only leads to better ideas but is also way more fun.
  2.  ESTABLISH RELATIONSHIP
    One of the games we played involved an interesting caveat: we had, within the exchange of three statements, to establish a specific relationship between two people in a scene. It was a tricky thing to do, coming up not only with something to say but enough of a backstory for the audience to guess at a likely relationship between the two characters in front of them. Extrapolating from this exercise makes me think about how important it is to consider backstories and contexts when we engage in collaborative work. Where is my coworker coming from with this idea? How might this idea work with our audience even if I don’t agree with it? What was the train of thought that led to this idea? This quick imaginative exercise frames problem solving such that we keep sight of the context and consider solutions from multiple angles.
  3. CONFIDENCE AND VULNERABILITY
    One of the paradoxes of the universe is that we humans (many of us, anyway) spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid embarrassment when simultaneously admiring most the people willing to make fools of themselves. There is an emotional and interpersonal intelligence we associate with people confident enough to exhibit occasional silliness. Improv lessons are a great reminder of this truth because you get to see people liberated from their usual inhibiting boundaries of decorum. I watched, and was among, people making outlandish noises while wiggling about, and we are all totally accepting of our mutual vulnerabilities. The environment was safe enough for us all to participate and, what’s more, emerge with both more confidence in ourselves and more respect for the other participants. Imagine a work environment safe enough for people to explore ideas beyond their inhibition—this is a leadership goal worthy of serious attention.

 

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Photo Friday! Sojourn to Twin Falls

There are not many places in Nashville to escape the relentless summer heat, but with a little planning, a 90-minute drive can get you to to a number of swimming holes and waterfalls perfect for those much needed respites.

Last weekend we trekked out to Rock Island State Park for a bit of hiking, swimming, and waterfall admiration. The big falls there, Twin Falls, looks like something right out of The Jungle Book. Several foot paths traverse the park and some of them lead to delightful swimming spots. There is also a wide, natural sand beach along the river with views of a towering cliff face and swooping hawks. We got a couple of burgers from the local Rock Island Market and Cafe (very tasty) and had ourselves a lovely picnic.

Here are some of the photos from the journey. Enjoy, and happy Friday!

twin falls wide

Twin Falls

archie josh 2

This was Archie’s first time swimming…the flailing was hilarious and painful, what with the scratching

plataeu falls

twin falls

forest stream

river

Lazy River. But no, it does not go in a circle.

swimming hole

This was the more popular swimming location.

swimming hole2

The swimming here was lovely and cool. Bit of a current though, and deeper than you think.

twin falls through trees

Archie and Em

Proud of our brave little buddy.

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Nashville and Its Future of Innovation

How do you intentionally plan for something that is usually serendipitous? Innovation, or the genesis and execution of novel solutions to a problem, as well as creativity more broadly, often comes about via mysterious means. Even so, few innovators ever leave it at that. Circumstances can be tweaked, environments can be shaped, and questions can be asked that ultimately yield smarter, targeted, and more innovative answers than previously conceived.

So what does it take to tweak and shape circumstances and environments? To find out, we, the Design Thinking Nashville group, have teamed up with the Nashville Innovation Project to see how we might foster more innovation in our growing city. Because Nashville is currently undergoing a population boom—cranes dominating the skyline, new businesses launching daily, and new residents bringing new ideas into the melting pot—the time is ripe for planning with intentionality. The NIP hosted multiple focus groups with business owners, developers, and policymakers, gathering experiences and opinions about what kinds of resources might make Nashville an innovation hot spot. With this feedback, we plan to apply Design Thinking methodology to address these questions with human-centered approaches and fast prototyping strategies.

To kick off the Design Thinking component of the project, we introduced the challenge to our monthly Caffy Hour meet-up group last Thursday morning. We tackled several of what we call “How might we…” questions in groups and in a (mere) hour came up with two prototypes that got me excited about the possibilities awaiting Nashville. The discussions yielded some important observations which I hope will encourage your own curiosity about what it takes to make craft an environment primed for innovative ideas.

  1. Innovation requires separation from the ordinary.
    I remember once when working for a non-profit I was tasked with designing the organization’s Christmas card. I struggled for hours coming up with multiple designs, all of which got rejected. When I finally detached myself from the project and started throwing some darts at a dart board, the winning idea miraculously manifested itself in my head. This instance exemplifies the fascinating paradox of creativity and psychology wherein we often come up with the best ideas while doing something completely out of the realm of the work for which we need those ideas. This is why creativity experts often suggest going for walks, taking showers, playing games, having lunch with people outside of your field, etc. Changing environments, pace, and company can give us what Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative, calls fresh stimuli, with which our brain can draw new connections. In other words, no new stimuli means no new ideas.

    Therefore, when designing to encourage innovation, the Caffy Hour conversations yielded the excellent point that whatever form the innovation resources took they had to present newcomers with fresh stimuli. Ideas included creating easily accessible public spaces where Artists in Residence could do demonstrations or innovators could display exhibits that challenge the passerby to strike up a conversation. We also envisioned indoor/outdoor public spaces offering free wifi and access to food and coffee where people could work, talk, and introduce their brains to new ideas.

  2. Innovation is fostered through cross-pollination and feedback.
    Both the focus groups and the Caffy hour group honed in on this point. In addition to removing ourselves from our physical and mental sphere and challenging our brain with new stimuli, innovative ideas can come from engaging in conversations with people who can help solve each others’ challenges, whether they are within the same industry, from a completely different industry, or hailing from an entirely different culture. Creating an environment that encourages conversation, mentorship, and feedback is paramount to designing for innovation. This raises an obvious difficulty however: you can’t force people to talk to each other. Michaela Powell, who manages daily operations at the Skillery, a co-working space in Germantown, assures us you can only do so much hand-holding during networking sessions. Because of this, conversations with strangers need to be incentivized. Fortunately, the Caffy Hour teams had some good ideas, including offering access to wifi, coffee, food, pay-it-forward mentorships, accelerator programs, association-wide memberships to Nashville’s co-working spaces, competitions and events, pop-exhibits in public spaces, online Nashville-centric social media networks, among many other ideas. We also played with the idea of creating public work stations with plaques above them, and users were welcome as long as they labeled their name card with what they were working on and be open for conversation or inquiry.
  3. Accessibility to resources and teammates is key. 
    Another common theme that arose from the many conversations had so far was the issue of affordability and accessibility. Co-working memberships are nice, but they only meet the needs of certain people and the budgets of even fewer. So how might we share resources, create environments for idea generation, and connect people across the city in ways that are accessible and affordable? The Caffy Hour groups looked at the idea of solving some of these issues by using public spaces. Like the Shake Shak in New York City, which has become a networking phenomenon just by being well-located and offering dozens of outdoor table spaces for meeting, Nashville could use its public spaces for similar purposes. One of the teams also drew sketches of an Innovation Bus, a large vehicle outfitted with whiteboards, prototyping supplies, wifi, and a seating area off the back for groups to use as needed for their brainstorming sessions. The beauty of this idea is that it can be moved to wherever it is needed on any given day, as well as include people outside the normal business spheres. For instance, the bus could potentially be used by students working on school projects, and serve a dual purpose as an education vehicle (in both senses of the word) as well as a professional one.
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This question of shaping Nashville into an innovation hub is ongoing. Contact me to learn more and join our efforts!

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Four Under-the-Radar Foodie Paradises in Nashville

Nashville has no shortage of Southern cuisine, whether you’re looking for meat and three or haute. But less well known are the bustling international food experiences to be enjoyed all across the city. As my husband and I continue to explore all Nashville has to offer, I thought I’d share some of the more recent findings from some tasty forays into less mainstream parts of town.

  1. Kirin Sushi 
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    Image credit to Valorie from Yelp

    This new sushi restaurant seems to be getting decent reviews without help from me, but as it is new and located in Antioch, I wanted to give it some love. We were looking for dinner near the $2 movie theater before our show, and I was craving sushi (when am I not?). Low and behold just off of Bell Road is the new Kirin Sushi offering a wide range of Japanese favorites from sushi to hibachi to udon soup. The restaurant provides a welcoming interior great for dates. We ordered several rolls and a bowl of Udon. I kept a menu on the table in case we needed more, but the rolls were bursting with seafood goodness and the bowl of Udon turned out to be bigger than my head! We ended up taking most of the soup home, along with a large plate of tasty tempura, and it was just as delicious and umami-packed the next day. We will be returning.

  2. So Gong Dong Tofu House Restaurant
    So, apparently, this place is a chain. We found out about it from our cousins from Chicago who came to visit and wondered if their favorite Korean restaurant had a location here. Lucky for us, rich soups and hearty bibimpab and seafood pancakes are just down the road. You wouldn’t know it to look at the questionable strip mall in which it sits, but stepping inside you discover a lovely, homey restaurant that feels worlds away from the nearby busy Harding Road. Seriously, I have never had tastier Korean food. Ever.
  3. Goha Ethiopian Restaurant 

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    Another Yelp Photo

    A bit out of the way (unless you already live in Antioch), this charming Ethiopian restaurant is located in a converted house. You dine in the living room or on the front porch, whichever you choose. The menu is extensive and the food comes fast and flavorful along with piles of spongy injera. This place is great whether you are novice to the cuisine or a long-time connoisseur. There are only a handful of Ethiopian restaurants in town, but so far this one is the overall winner for flavor, service, and ambiance.

  4. The Shawarma Sandwiches at Newroz Market 
    There is a string of Kurdish markets along Nolensville Pike that serve the needs of Nashville’s substantial Kurdish population. They also serve the rest of us delicious shawarma sandwiches at Newroz Market, made to order on your choice of freshly baked breads, with chicken or beef or mixed, and any veggies or sauces that tickle your fancy. Best of all, you can stuff yourself full of tasty shawarma for only $4! Everyone inside is very kind and willing to explain all the choices available. While you are there, you can also pick up bucketloads of dried chickpeas, homemade tahini paste, and date syrup for your Mediterranean cooking adventures.

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My latest in Edible Magazine

The gorgeous new issue of Edible Nashville hits coffee shop shelves this week. Inside is my latest article entitled, “World Class Kitchen.” Woot woot!

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This was yet another awesome assignment where I got to learn about some great work being done here in Nashville. Just up the road from where I live, there is a community center called Casa Azafran that serves the immigrant populations of Nashville, offering everything from English Lessons to daycare. One of their coolest programs is Mesa Komal, the shared kitchen space available to food/restaurant start-ups.

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Inside Mesa Komal

By sharing kitchen space and its costs, these start-ups are able to start-up faster, as well as create camaraderie among their number through a shared dream. Read all about it!

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The Four Food Entrepreneurs of the article

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