Feb 12, 2024 - Food and Drink

New Arlington incubator program helps Black chefs become "foodpreneurs"

Illustration of silverware on red, yellow and green napkins.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

A North Texas family has launched a new program to address inequities in the culinary industry by letting Black chefs experience what it's like to run their own restaurant.

Driving the news: Kitchen Combine launched in Arlington in January and will feature new chefs with new menus every month.

Why it matters: The culinary industry has historically favored white chefs, making it tougher for chefs of color to get top jobs at restaurants.

  • "Black and Latinx people are more likely to work in low-paying, quick service segments or in back-of-house positions, with limited upward mobility," according to the Michelin Guide.

State of play: Kitchen Combine gives its kitchen space, technology and seating area to a new chef every month to help them see what it would be like to operate a brick-and-mortar with dine-in and pickup orders.

  • Ray Pryor's family, who started Kitchen Combine, helps the chefs price their dishes, identify which ones are most profitable and refine their workflow.
  • The chefs and the family share the profit, based on sales and operating costs.
  • When each chef's month at Kitchen Combine ends, the family plans to continue mentoring them and help them find a more permanent space.
A counter with tables and chairs in the foreground
Ray Pryor's family is trying to turn a recent setback into others' success. Photo: Naheed Rajwani-Dharsi/Axios

The intrigue: Pryor's family learned the hard way. They opened a seafood restaurant on Matlock Road in Arlington last August but had to shutter it in October after realizing how tough it was to run a restaurant.

  • As the space with a 10-year lease sat vacant, some chefs started asking to use it for catering and events.
  • The family turned the space into an incubator for promising chefs in the community.
  • "There are a lot of prep kitchens that you can use to cook your food, but nothing that looks and feels like a restaurant for your customers to experience," Pryor tells Axios.

And: Even if the chefs realize they don't want to open a restaurant, they won't lose a large investment to reach that conclusion.

  • "There are a lot of different paths that I imagine our chefs will take," Pryor says. "My hope is this will open their eyes to all that is possible because now you get a real sense of what that's like on your body, your finances."

Reality check: While the first Kitchen Combine chefs are Black, Pryor says the program is open to people from other backgrounds too. Serving chefs from underrepresented communities, however, will remain a priority.

What's next: Pryor's family hopes other cities will be inspired by Kitchen Combine and try their own version of the program.

  • "This is people who have nobody else to look to who have decided to collaborate together to create value for each other," he says.

How to help: Visit the restaurant, become a VIP member or nominate a chef for the program.

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