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Best of Boston 2009

Last biscuit in the oven

Nuestra's culinary misadventure
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  May 20, 2009

On that next trip to Whole Foods or the farmers' market, your favorite small-batch cookies, jams, and jellies might be hard to find. After eight years of providing inexpensive kitchen space for nascent food-service ventures, the nonprofit Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation will close its 5500-square-foot Roxbury workspace annex — home to Nuestra Culinary Ventures (NCV) — at the end of next month. Several local food businesses have been left scurrying to move operations elsewhere in the wake of that announcement, and are now unable to guarantee future orders.

For nearly a decade, Nuestra has helped struggling families find and keep homes, and has assisted individuals in cultivating enterprises — but it can no longer afford to do both. Short of a miracle, come June 30 Nuestra will close its culinary program to focus on rescuing foreclosed properties in Roxbury.

As often happens following announcements that good things are coming to an end, last-minute efforts have been announced to keep the program running. But according to NCVDirector J.D. Walker, the precipitous late-April notice of closure may have done too much damage.

"The businesses only had 70 days notice," says Walker, who is simultaneously trying to find a last-minute financial blessing (or relief) to save NCV, and to help its 15-or-so regular culinary occupants (plus several applicants who have made start-up investments) find alternative spaces. "The main problem right now is that the Board of Health — at least in Boston — doesn't really allow one space to be used by multiple businesses."

Though city health administrators are reluctant to allow, say, cake bakers to use a lunch restaurant after hours (such business "incubators" as NCV are rare exceptions), inspectors should bend the rules for vendors trained by Walker, who know how to clean multi-use kitchens properly. After all, the operations are adequately sanitary for Boston Public Schools, which contracts Nuestra businesses to provide box lunches.

This isn't the first time Nuestra has faced trouble. In late 2006, the nonprofit announced that it needed $150,000 to continue maintaining NCV. (The kitchen's annual rent is $80,000, and the operation has incurred ongoing annual losses.) But that time, Mayor Tom Menino — with help from the Boston Redevelopment Authority and others — swooped in for the rescue.

Despite now being a ripe opportunity for a mayoral candidate to play hero, there have been no signs of help.

"I'm very sad," says seven-year NCV veteran Deborah Taylor, who already moved most of her spreadable fruit and relish business, Deborah's Kitchen, to a facility more than two hours away. "I wouldn't have been able to start my business without [Nuestra], and now other people won't have the same advantage that I had."

Related: Zuzzy’s Cookie Dough, Tashi Delek, Future perfect?, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Boston Public Schools, Boston Redevelopment Authority, Business,  More more >
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