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Multicultural market celebrates expansion

Maria Walle, from left, Ruth Espina and Luisa Mendez work Thursday during an open house in the new commercial kitchen at the office of the Willmar Area Multicultural Market. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- The commercial kitchen available through the Willmar Area Multicultural Market is a dream come true for four women who love to cook.

And the kitchen is only a part of the dream that began in the past decade to develop the economic potential of the area's ethnic populations.

WAMM celebrated an open house at its offices at 215 Fourth St. S.W. in downtown Willmar Thursday afternoon.

The office's walls are painted in vibrant gold and blue, and there's a mural of a Becker Market scene from downtown Willmar.

Some of the kitchen equipment was there when WAMM moved into the building, and grant funding helped develop a fully functioning commercial kitchen. A training center has been set up next door where English and computer classes are offered.

For Gaby Castillo, Maria Uvalle, Ruth Espinal and Rebeca Ramos, the kitchen will allow them to start their food business, offering breakfast and lunch items for takeout or delivery. Their menu will vary with the day and will include food from a variety of Latin American cultures. Espinal said she can cook the foods of many countries, including China.

The women are part of an organization called Association of Latinas in Action.

"This is a dream come true," Castillo said.

"For us, it's very important," said Uvalle, and they are grateful for the opportunity they have in the kitchen.

WAMM director Roberto Valdez Jr. said the kitchen will give people an opportunity to try out a business without making a huge initial investment in overhead.

The women who are starting their food business already have the cooking talent, he said. What they will be learning with WAMM is how to run a business and how to do cost analysis and maintain cash flow.

"The kitchen is one area of WAMM," Valdez said. "I think what we're celebrating here is a resource for the community." Valdez and WAMM work with entrepreneurs from all cultures.

More than 40 volunteers helped do the work to update the look of the storefront office, he said, and he thinks their work has made them feel more connected to Willmar and the entire community.

"What we wanted to do is have something that provides people with an opportunity to go into business and provide a service," said Idalia "Charly" Leuze, head of the West Central Immigration Collaborative. "I think people need to witness the good things immigrant communities can do."

Yolanda Cotterall said the seeds of the new facility were planted nearly a decade ago, when her organization, the Latino Economic Development Center, started working with local economic development officials, Heartland Community Action Agency and others to develop a multicultural marketplace.

Cotterall called the multicultural market "a vision that was seen and brought to fruition through all these people."

The initial vision was a marketplace under one room, but the groups realized "the marketplace already existed; it was just spread out" across the community.

Cotterall said she knew when they looked at the building that it had great potential for the community, and the kitchen could be used as an incubator for small businesses.

"This building has now been converted to amazing use," Cotterall said, "and it's a center for people with dreams."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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