Manifest Boston Stories

Manifest Mornings: A Conversation with Jen Faigel

Written by Lindsay Gearheart | May 7, 2020 6:06:55 PM

This morning, Executive Director of CommonWealth Kitchen Jen Faigel joined us for another inspirational session of our ongoing Manifest Mornings series to talk about her work feeding Boston's families, one table at a time.

Before joining the CommonWealth Kitchen team five years ago, Jen worked as an advocate for affordable housing. She's a self-proclaimed "accidental Executive Director of a nonprofit," especially one that does food and business. (Truthfully, she's not even much of a cook herself.) She is, however, a born entrepreneur, and has run a few lemonade stands in her day.

So what does CommonWealth Kitchen do? The organization provides a shared kitchen space in Dorchester to primarily minority-owned startup food businesses. Jen describes it as similar to a gym membership for food companies, noting that usually, "It’s organized chaos at its best." The biggest challenge for someone starting a food company is typically the cost of the kitchen. CommonWealth Kitchen's theory is that they can take that financial risk off the cooks by charging them by the hour for use of a shared space.

But CommonWealth Kitchen is about more than just providing space. It's about building a community of entrepreneurs who can help each other. Running a successful food business takes not only financial capital, but human and social capital too. Jen and her team want to work with their businesses along their journey from startup to established company.

Starting that process means, "We’re always looking for entrepreneurial DNA," said Jen. "We spend a lot of time talking to people, and frankly, crushing their dreams. Because while their product might be the best thing ever, running a food business is about so much more than that."

Over the course of five years, CommonWealth Kitchen has experienced 700% growth. Then, suddenly, Covid-19 threatened to change everything. With public life largely shut down, they started doing webinars and training for their entrepreneurs, but everything still felt hopeless and out of control. That's when Jen and her team saw that this was a moment to take advantage of what their business owners do — feed people with love and respect. They could use their kitchens to make prepared food and get it out to people in need.

This idea has developed into an initiative called CommonTable. Through a $461,688 grant from the Boston Resiliency Fund, CommonWealth Kitchen will purchase hundreds of meals from restaurants and have them delivered to designated meal sites. The program relies on CommonWealth Kitchen's network of food trucks, caterers, and restaurants, all of whom support each other's growth.

"This is a beautiful example of using your connections for good," our president Jen Reddy said. We are lucky enough to be one of Jen Faigel's connections, helping coordinate and share CommonTable's story. 

"When we come together, we’re able to be stronger than we are as individuals," said Faigel.

Hear more about the program from Jen directly with the below recording from today's Manifest Mornings session.


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