By Jamie Leary
DENVER (CBS4) – When Comal opened in Denver’s RiNo district in 2016, the goal was not to open another just restaurant, it was to create opportunity for low income families.
Specifically, the women who are part of Denver’s large immigrant community.
“It was created in a direct response to what the community wanted,” said Slavica Park, Director of Economic Development for Focus Points, a Denver nonprofit.
Focus Points serves low-income families in the Northwest Denver area. It hired Park to come up with a social enterprise — the idea for Comal came through a group of women with common a interest. Comal was up and running within three months.
So far, Comal has employed 27 women and eight already have their business licenses.
“It really is magical. Coming in and seeing these woman from all different parts of the world coming together and cooking, but also seeing the overwhelming support from the Denver community in what they’re trying to achieve and do. It’s just been amazing,” said Park.
At Comal, the women make $15 an hour and learn a wide array of skills from restaurant management to entrepreneurship.
While the restaurant is only open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., it hosts many events where the women are able to show off their cuisine.
“To see the pride in their faces when they make something with their own hands that gives someone else joy….” Park said. “It truly feeds my soul. It really does.”
Silvia Hernandez, 47, moved to Denver’s Elyria neighborhood with her two children in 2016. She was looking for a fresh start when she discovered the Focus Points Family Resource Center. It was there she made friends and there where she helped Park come up with the concept for Comal.
Hernandez has been cooking for Comal since it opened. She is finally preparing to open her own food truck. This of course, is the reason she started working for Comal; to start her own business, but she is going to have a very hard time leaving the place that made sure she achieved her goal.
“I love it here. To me it’s like, I don’t know how can I say it. My family, it is part of my life, like everyday if I don’t come here to Comal I don’t feel like I’m doing anything. Like I feel lost. They really support me,” said Hernandez.
Park says she knows Comal won’t solve the larger issue facing many immigrant families. Not only does she hope to expand the space, she hopes to have an even bigger social enterprise. Down the road, she envisions a grocery store with the same educational model as Comal.
Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn’t imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.