The Binghampton neighborhood has long been counted among Memphis’ food deserts. But it is now emerging as an incubator for culinary entrepreneurship, and its unique flavors and innovative ideas are expanding beyond the diverse neighborhood’s boundaries.
In 2017, Binghampton Development Corporation established Kaleidoscope Kitchen, whose mission is to prepare minority entrepreneurs to establish successful food businesses. Kaleidoscope Kitchen initially focused on helping immigrants and refugees launch food enterprises.
Binghampton is one of Memphis’ most diverse neighborhoods, with a population of residents representing more than 20 countries of origin. A 2015 study by The Kauffman Foundation found immigrants were nearly twice as likely as their native-born neighbors to start new businesses.
“Through the planning period of Kaleidoscope, immigrants and refugees came to us and told us that they wanted to share their culture through food, they just didn’t know where to start,” said Emalea Rieckhoff, Kaleidoscope Kitchen’s operations manager.
Among Kaleidoscope Kitchen’s most well-known alumnae are the three main chefs at Global Cafe, an international food hall located in Crosstown Concourse that hosts three immigrant or refugee food entrepreneurs offering an eclectic mix of dishes from their home countries. Rieckhoff says Indra from Nepal, Ibti from Sudan, and Fayha from Syria all participated in Kaleidoscope’s culinary training program prior to the cafe’s launch in the fall of 2018.
Kaleidoscope Kitchen has since expanded to include all minority culinary entrepreneurs.
“As time went on, we found that this problem was not something unique to immigrants and refugees. Anyone in the industry can attest to the difficulty of not knowing where or how to start,” Rieckhoff said. “There are so many rules and regulations, everchanging and sometimes difficult to understand. We hope to come in and bridge that gap as much as possible, lowering those barriers to entry for all.”
Kaleidoscope Kitchen’s programming has four components: low-cost kitchen rental, culinary training, sales coordination, and small business counseling. Participants in the program receive business assistance and access to a commercial kitchen housed at the Binghampton Development Corp., 280 Tillman Street.
The program helped Yolanda Manning, a Raleigh neighborhood resident who relocated from Nashville several years ago, to set up her business, Araba’s Sweet Shop, which offers vegan baked goods.
“The program offered a lot of tips and techniques and the things you need to know as an entrepreneur,” Manning said. “It gave me good connections to other food entrepreneurs.
We were exposed to these innovative ideas together and were able to stay connected when the program was over. We were able to build something in our individual lives, but collectively, too. I think that’s a beautiful experience.”
One of Manning’s clients is Inspire Community Cafe in the Binghampton Gateway Center, which serves up healthy, hearty meals in an accessible and welcoming space while and providing its with employees living-wage jobs and profit-sharing opportunities.
Inspire Community Cafe, located at 510 Tillman Street, was Kaleidoscope’s first-ever tenant. Cafe owner Kristen Fox-Trautman and her team started the business with a food truck while using Kaleidoscope’s rental commercial kitchen.
“They really helped us to get our mobile cafe off the ground, and we ran that for about a year while we were looking for the right spot for our brick-and-mortar,” she said. “One of our core purposes was to be accessible to a community that had less access to fresh, healthy food choices. Our connection with the Kaleidoscope kitchen helped us build a relationship with the Binghampton Development Corporation, which owns this property, and that’s one of the reasons we chose to be here.”
Kaleidoscope Kitchen’s influence expands to Downtown, where Eli Townsend serves as executive chef at Sage, a soul-fusion restaurant that opened at 94 South Main Street in November of 2018.
Townsend lived in Binghampton for three years, where he served as a chef and culinary artist-in-residence at Caritas Village, a community gathering space in the heart of Binghampton.
“At Caritas, we saw that food was a universal language in Binghampton because of its diversity and the ethnicities of its residents,” he said.
“We may not have the opportunity to ever go to India, for example, but through food, we can learn things about the culture, and learn how they communicate with each other. And that’s what I think food did for the Binghampton community and this surge of entrepreneurship.”
Townsend said he began to help the Binghampton Development Corporation with their food entrepreneurs and created a curriculum. He counted among his students Chef Ibti of Global
Cafe and Yolanda Manning of Araba’s Sweet Shop.
“In classes, the students learned about knife cuts, temperatures, presentation, all of those areas, and we were able to really help people learn how to manage their own business. And the diversity in the students was just phenomenal. Sudanese, Ecuadorean, Tanzania … it really was a great experience. That’s kinda how I came up with the fusion concept for Sage, because I learned so much from my students. I think a great teacher learns.”
In addition to serving as a culinary instructor at Kaleidoscope Kitchen, Townsend had his own business there, using the professional-grade kitchen to prepare food for Chef Eli’s Table. He connected with investors who shared his vision for a Downtown restaurant serving up soul-fusion cuisine with Asian and Caribbean influences.
His brunch line cook is a former Kaleidoscope student, Adrian Guess of Midtown. In addition to working at Sage, Guess has his own culinary startup called Mouthful, which also uses the Kaleidoscope’s incubator kitchen. Mouthful prepares comfort food in healthier ways and counts Shelby County Schools among its clients. It also provides a “chef’s table” private restaurant-style dining experience in clients’ homes.
Guess has a background in financial services, and Mouthful operates as a social enterprise, using revenues from food services for financial literacy and entrepreneurship projects in the community.
“Once I started going through the program under Chef Eli, I had the idea to start Mouthful. But I also wanted to have more of a relationship with the culinary industry and get more experience there, and Eli was getting ready to partner up and open Sage, so it’s been a great opportunity for me to be able to operate once a week in a restaurant environment as part of my learning, to build myself as a chef.”
Just across from Binghampton, on the other side of Poplar Avenue, Christopher Hudson serves as executive chef at Mahogany Memphis, which opened last November in Chickasaw Oaks Village at 3092 Poplar Avenue. Hudson is a professionally trained chef who graduated from Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts in Miami, an education that was funded by legendary Memphis musician Isaac Hayes.
“I worked at Isaac Hayes’ Restaurant during high school. We got into a conversation about me going to school and he said he would foot the bill.”
Hudson grew up in a culinary family in Binghampton. His grandmother ran her own restaurant called Ruby’s, and his family also owned a convenience store in the neighborhood that served hot plate lunches. Hudson has worked in fine dining establishments, taught classes at L’Ecole Culinaire, and has also been a guest teacher at Kaleidoscope Kitchen.
“Places like the Kaleidoscope Kitchen can help bridge that gap and get the interest of people who actually want to do it,” he said. “You can never know too much about food, and we learn from each other.”