Pair of Jamaica FEASTS graduates make their culinary dreams a reality
By Naeisha Rose
Tress Walker was a student at Central Library’s Jamaica FEASTS, a free entrepreneurial program for those in the culinary world.
Tavia Kowalchuk was a student at the Jamaica FEASTS, a culinary entrepreneurial program.
MumsKitchens NYC and Bliss Street Creamery are the brainchildren of Tress Walker and Tavia Kowalchuk, two entrepreneurs who wouldn’t let their lack of knowledge of the business side of the culinary world stop them from turning their dreams into a reality.
Walker and Kowalchuk managed to translate their ideas into successful businesses after they graduated from Jamaica FEASTS, a free entrepreneurial program at Central Library, located at 89-11 Merrick Blvd.
New York City Economic Development Corporation selected the library as an incubator for aspiring food entrepreneurs and the program launched in January 2017.
Students in the 12-week program receive instruction from experts in the field and guest speakers, according to EDC spokeswoman Shavone Williams.
According to Williams, they get hands-on experience from the workshops, which include classes on business planning, time management, menu planning, customer service, food safety, hiring and more.
Walker, who is from St. Albans, utilized those lessons and now sells West Indian cuisine and baked goods.
“Tress is known for her brownie bites and they are constantly craved around this office,” said Michael Maldonado, the Jamaica FEASTS Entrepreneurship counselor.
Walker came up with the idea for Mums in 2015 and started her company in February, 2016 before she joined the entrepreneurial program.
“I live in a West Indian neighborhood and a lot of the women there are house cooks,” Walker said. “I wanted a place where there is a little kitchen where folks can come in and make what they cook and bake for their nationality… and sell the food that they make and make a profit for it.”
To date the women who work with Walker are from Guyana, Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago. The self-taught baker is half Barbadian and half Trinidadian.
Despite starting a business, she did not know how to go about getting the licenses that she needed to get it off the ground.
“There are so many licenses for everything,” said Walker. “I am now under the cottage law license… and they helped me to get a license to do the temporary night markets and the different fairs.”
Through the program Walker also received help with sales tax information, pricing items and much more.
“My favorite classes were advertising and one on how to price items for catering,” said Walker, who was told she was underselling her items.
Kowalchuk is from Sunnyside and runs an artisanal ice cream business.
“Tavia has captured the essence of ice cream,” said Maldonado.
Kowalchuk had an idea for Bliss six years ago and has been making her own ice cream at home for a decade.
“Ice cream is a very personal passion of mine,” Kowalchuk said. “I love combining flavors and I love making it for texture and consistency. I love the challenge of it.”
It wasn’t until the program everything came together for her.
“Jamaica FEASTS taught me about the different business structures so I can choose between a self-proprietorship or an LLC,” Kowalchuk said. “They taught me all the things to consider when looking for a storefront, how to negotiate rent and what kind of leases there were for a commercial establishment, and what are the health codes for an ice cream business.”
Kowalchuk also learned about vending opportunities.
“To build my audience I sell my ice cream at street fairs and food festivals during the summer,” Kowalchuk said.
Her love of Queens and its diversity is inspiring new recipe ideas for her.
“I love my borough and I love Sunnyside and I really want to contribute what is in my neighborhood,” she said. “One of my goals is to have ice cream flavors of the primary nationalities of the people who live in Queens.”
Both women are proud to have been in the program.
“If you have an idea or thought for a business and you are not quite sure how to get from Point A to Point B, Jamaica FEASTS is a great place to give you the guidelines and the stepping stones like Hansel and Gretel,” said Walker.
“Every class was riveting,” Kowalchuck said. “I just ate up all the information.”
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4573.