In 2018 Nusenda Foundation launched its Financial Education Innovator recognition program, which aims to showcase those in the community who are dedicated to increasing economic mobility and stability for their fellow New Mexicans. Julian Griego, Lead Instructor/Chef de Cuisine for the Street Food Institute, has been named the second recipient of the Financial Education Innovator Award, for using the culture and allure of food and the culinary arts to create jobs, develop local business opportunities, and inspire the entrepreneurial leaders of the future.
“The intention of this recognition program is to showcase those in the community who are dedicated to increasing economic mobility for their fellow New Mexicans, and are carrying out innovative education strategies that improve financial well-being in their communities,” said Robin Brulé, Executive Director of the Nusenda Foundation and Chief Community Engagement Officer for Nusenda Credit Union.
As a Financial Education Innovator awardee, Griego will receive a $500 stipend to help grow and develop the Street Food Institute program.
Griego’s passion for the culinary arts began as a child learning to cook traditional New Mexican foods with his grandmother and grandfather. This passion led him to pursue a career in the culinary arts. After graduating with an associate degree in occupational studies from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas, Nevada at 17 years old, he spent time working as a cook at large-scale venues like The Venetian. Eventually, he returned home to New Mexico and worked as a chef in many fine dining restaurants. He has also worked as a CNM culinary arts instructor.
According to its mission statement, the nonprofit Street Food Institute is an entrepreneur-focused and workforce training culinary program dedicated to inspiring the success of small, local businesses in New Mexico and training individuals interested in pursuing a career in the culinary industry. Through a combination of classroom theory and a hands-on apprenticeship, students receive a unique and engaging experience that prepares them for success in business and in the work environment.
The organization works with young adults and emerging culinary students to develop the business and technical skills to become culinary entrepreneurs. In partnership with Central New Mexico Community College’s culinary arts program, students receive hands-on experience on how to properly and safely prepare food. Upon completion, they then can get a real-time feel of how to run a business with 135-hour internships on one of three SFI food trucks, at a booth at Albuquerque’s Rail Yards Market, at the SFI Café at CNM’s main campus, or through catering contracts. Street Food Institute also offers its program to the community through a series of classes held three times a year. The organization is also piloting a Spanish language version of the course this summer.
Once trained in the kitchen aspect of the business, SFI then provides education and guidance on the business end of the food industry, such as permits and licenses, financing, marketing, and product cost analysis.
“Food trucks offer the opportunity to create high-quality, good food without the overhead of a brick and mortar location,” Griego said. “In this program, students are learning the skills necessary to run a fine dining establishment – creating dishes from scratch, focusing on the layering of flavors that make the meals complex and unique.
"At the same time, they’re learning about cost analysis – how much does it cost to buy the food and how much do they need to charge to keep their business going? There is a very narrow profit margin in the restaurant industry, and the reason many fail is because the margins aren’t doable. This is an environment where for a minimum risk, there are maximum returns in learning the business, identifying solid recipes and building clientele.”
The program also helps potential chefs understand the time commitment involved, and that not everyone starts at the top.
“With all the cooking shows out there today, there is a perception that becoming a chef is simple – it’s not that way in the real world,” Griego said. “Everyone starts at the bottom, working on the line. The long hours, working while everyone else is having fun. Most times, cooks spend more time with their restaurant family than their real family.
“That’s where people discover if the passion to cook – which really is an art form – is truly there.”
Since its founding almost six years ago, SFI has educated and supported about 200 food entrepreneurs, and seen 25 successful food service businesses start and continue to thrive. Through its award-winning Co-op Capital program, Nusenda Credit Union and the Nusenda Foundation continue to support these small businesses with relationship-based, micro-lending access to capital – particularly to low-income entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color. Statewide, Co-op Capital works with partner organizations with micro-lending programs that aim to grow more Native American businesses and stabilize immigrant communities.
The Nusenda Foundation will be recognizing a Financial Education Innovator on a quarterly basis; nominees are accepted year-round and can be from diverse backgrounds, such as community organizations, nonprofits, and education and government sectors. For information on the Financial Education Innovator program and to submit a nomination, visit: www.nusendafoundation.org/innovators.