Leading Ladies: Meet five driven women reshaping San Antonio’s food scene

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click to enlarge Leading Ladies: Meet five driven women reshaping San Antonio’s food scene
Josh Huskin
Culinary Empowerment: Nadia Mavrakis helps immigrants launch their own food-based businesses

When spending time around Nadia Mavrakis, CEO of the nonprofit Culturingua, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by her quiet authority. She doesn’t say much, but when she does, it’s measured and to the point. It has weight.

That kind of gravitas may stem from Mavrakis’ decade of experience in for-profit business strategy. In an industry largely led by middle-aged men, she led projects to design and implement changes designed to make Fortune 500 companies more competitive.

Her current role draws on some of those same skills but puts them to use for a different set of clients. Culturingua works to empower immigrants and refugees from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) living in San Antonio.

Under Mavrakis’ guidance, the nonprofit recently rolled out the Nourish to Flourish Culinary Entrepreneurship Incubator. The project helps primarily low- and moderate-income immigrants and refugees of MENASA descent launch foodservice-based micro-businesses.

Through Nourish to Flourish, Culturingua aids immigrants in creating business plans and navigating the legal process of setting up their enterprise. It can even connect some to startup capital. In past cases, Nourish to Flourish has facilitated loans of up to $15,000 at 0% interest for startup costs.

“The program enables residents to learn how to apply the culinary skills they brought with them from their home countries to the American culture and business regulations,” Mavrakis said. “Through enabling MENASA residents to express their culinary heritage through microenterprises, we aim to support the City of San Antonio’s designation as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, celebrating local food heritage and emerging new influences from San Antonio’s newest residents.”

The incubator is poised for even bigger things thanks to the $30,000 grant it landed last month to further develop a hands-on training program in a mobile commercial kitchen. The first of its kind in San Antonio, the mobile kitchen will allow Nourish to Flourish participants to literally test drive culinary concepts without the financial costs usually associated with purchasing and outfitting their own food truck.

By completing Culturingua’s entrepreneurship program, Mavrakis said, individuals can start a business to support themselves and their families while contributing to the local economy and attaining self-actualization — a concept near and dear to her heart.

“Working to support refugees and immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia to integrate in America while harnessing their cultural assets has helped me better understand and appreciate the experiences of my father, who immigrated to the U.S. [as a political refugee] from Libya in 1977,” she said.

She also sees the incubator as a way to help yet another wave of MENASA newcomers become part of San Antonio’s cultural fabric.

“This is the experience of many of San Antonio’s newest neighbors from Afghanistan who we are welcoming into their new home in San Antonio following the political disruption [in their country of origin]. We hope to support our newest neighbors from Afghanistan to feel like Afghan Americans, honoring their cultural heritage while embracing them in their new home in America.”

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About The Author

Nina Rangel

Nina uses nearly 20 years of experience in the foodservice industry to tell the stories of movers and shakers in the food scene in San Antonio. She enjoys writing about industry-specific challenges, victories and everything in between.

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