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Tukwila's global food hall helps women of color, refugees start (& grow) their businesses

Food is a universal language. It brings people together, drawn in by taste and, in Tukwila, by a cacophony of wonderful smells all emanating from one place, Spice Bridge.

"All I can say is if you're not hungry you will be hungry, and if you haven't tried anything, you will want to try," one vendor told me.

Spice Bridge is a cultural food hall and food business incubator. It's a project of the Food Innovation Network and its parent organization Global to Local, a Seatac based non-profit.

"Spice Bridge houses a variety of vendors, all women, all immigrant refugee women who are learning to build a food business," explained AJ McClure, deputy director of Global to Local. "People come in here for two years. They get business training while building up their business and their menu, so after two years they can go out and be successful entrepreneurs."

Eight different businesses rotate between the four stalls inside the food hall. On any given day one might find Gambian food, Argentinian, Filipino, Congolese. It's a delicious celebration of community and diversity, each of these women sharing a piece of themselves through the dishes they serve.

"It's a story of resiliency really," said McClure. "The barriers these women have had to knock down and fight through is simply amazing."

"We're all incredible," said Nasrin Noori, a mom of four and the owner of Jazze's. "I keep saying we're all powerful women because we've all had our own struggles and we've been able to overcome and make this happen in our own way."

Noori came up with the name Jazze's by combining her kid's initials. She serves Afghan-American fusion food made with organic, local ingredients.

"There's so many passions behind Jazze's. I want to grow it into a restaurant where families come together," she said. "And also my hope is [it becomes a place for] families with children like ours, I have a special needs son, where we can all go. So I'm hoping to create a place where people are welcomed and feel at home."

A couple stalls over, Theary Ngeth from Theary Cambodian Foods has provided a taste of home to the local Cambodian community for years, cooking meals at South Park Community Center. Though it was her friends who pushed her to open the business, the inspiration is her mom.

"When we first came to the United States in the mid-80's my mother would say 'Oh husband, we should have a restaurant!'" said Ngeth. "And my dad, because we didn't speak English, [would say] 'it's only a dream.'"

A family's dream, a dream that seemed son far out of reach when they escaped Cambodia years ago, now becoming reality. Her pride in traditional dishes is evident in the way they're prepared, without short cuts. A labor of love so that folks who have never tried it can truly experience Cambodian cuisine.

"For me, I cook food that my children love. That is the food I offer here. It's from the heart," said Ngeth. "I want to share with the world that our food is as great, as healthy, as any food. Cambodian food just needs an opportunity to taste. Once you taste our food, you know we are as good."

Yes, food is universal, because no matter who you are, where you come from, delicious is, well, delicious. Sometimes all one needs is an opportunity to share.

"I'm the first generation to have a true business and I feel proud. I feel happy," Ngeth told me. "It's a dream come true, especially for my parents. They're gone now, but me doing it for them, it's great."

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