POSTED ON August 21 2017

The Town Kitchen's Sabrina Matukisna On Connecting Community + Food

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About Sabrina:

Born into a family of Sri Lankan immigrants who owned and operated a dry cleaning business, Sabrina Matukisna learned the value of hard work at a young age. It’s a value she proudly carries with her today and one which she shares with others on a daily basis through the business she co-founded with Jefferson Sevilla, The Town Kitchen. The Oakland, Calif., chef-crafted subscription food delivery service also employs low-income youth ages 15 to 25. After all, part of Sabrina’s job is to help create jobs for others!

Launched in January 2015, the for-profit benefit corporation provides tech-enabled food delivery – no brick and mortar storefront required. The business prides itself in offering a fair wage of $15 an hour and provides culinary training to its employees. The Town Kitchen also is proud to support a nonprofit arm, Youth Food Project, which provides job readiness training, case management and a credited class – Culinary and Food Entrepreneurship.

In episode 49 of I Want Her Job: The Podcast, Host Polina Selyutin discusses with Sabrina the amazing ripple effect a small business can have. For example, The Town Kitchen invests in its community – providing jobs with living wages, teaching job training, instilling a passion for our food system and even supporting 30 local artisans via its dessert box selections.

Topics Discussed In Today’s Show:

  • Finding Her Path: Sabrina attended college at UC Berkeley where she focused a chunk of her time mentoring others. She also coordinated the Mayor’s Youth Employment and Education Program in San Francisco. After this she went on to spend 13 years in workforce development at California Teacher Pathway helping foster children, formerly incarcerated youth and others figure out how to start a career and complete degrees and certificates. One program she was involved with, in particular, provided her with the opportunity to help lower-income young adults complete community college and then a 4-year degree. Although the program was successful, it lost funding. But, that moment made space for a new kind of impact Sabrina could make – with The Town Kitchen.
  • Getting A Start: Prior to launching The Town Kitchen, Sabrina ran her own cupcake business. Around the same time, Sabrina met Jefferson, her co-founder, who was a Google employee at the time interested in getting into the space. The two discussed what a youth-focused, yet high-growth and scalable business would look like and The Town Kitchen was born. Sabrina was particularly excited about its launch because it provided her with a way to merge her passion for food and cooking with providing employment for lower-income youth.
  • Covering The Gap: While Sabrina worked in the program that helped lower-income adults complete community college, she noticed that there was a gap when it came to how employment was approached. While she says scaling is important (and that’s what allowed for the success of the program), there also is a critical need for longer-term programs that help employees beyond 6-months. With The Town Kitchen, it’s her goal not to employ someone for only 1 year, but to hire them to be a part of the team for 2 years, 5 years and even 6 years. That’s where the lasting change is made, she says. She has a goal of rolling this way of thinking out across the country as The Town Kitchen expands.
  • On Culture: “We want to create an [employment] space where you can be yourself … talk about what’s going on,” Sabrina says. “[We want] people [who] can stay with us for years, as opposed to just months.”
  • Thinking Through Challenges: There are so many spaces for places to improve, Sabrina says, and it’s one of the challenges she and her team face on the regular. The Town Kitchen is a food company and a delivery company. It requires a lot operationally. Also, because it’s a for-profit benefit corporation, it’s important that they also balance community culture/showing up in the community with a focus on high-growth business, which means thinking about margins, revenue and audacious goals.
  • Leading By Example: Sabrina and her team at The Town Kitchen are proud to be tackling two important issues of our time – employment opportunity and our food system. She is a firm believer in being the change she wishes to see and hopes the healthy eating she teaches the employees and customers of the company will then spread to others around them, and so on.
  • On Living An Undocumented Life: Sabrina grew up undocumented in Southern California. “College was always told to be really important to me. I never questioned that,” she says. “Being undocumented it was less clear [as to how] I would get there. I didn’t really think about it. I joined everything I could and studied. When I realized that college was going to be really expensive and wasn’t something we could really afford, I got a little frustrated. So, I ended up transferring to Berkeley as an AB 540 student, which granted me in-state tuition but didn’t give me access to any financial aide. So, I worked throughout college and worked a lot of jobs that were under-the-table and didn’t require a social security number. For so long in my journey, I never told that part … I think that’s a huge part of embarrassment for folks that are undocumented. It’s nice to be a citizen, and I’m very proud to [now] be an American citizen … and to actually tell the story. I think all the systems that I experienced at Berkeley and before [showed me] that I really wanted to make the process much easier for folks.”
  • Defining Success: It’s important that at The Town Kitchen there is a clear mission statement and prioritization of a business’s values and how they show up, Sabrina says. At her business, it’s of key importance that employees are paid a $15-an-hour wage. And, as founders or even in all-staff meetings she says, “ [it’s important to] make sure that we’re thinking intentionally about our corporate values and the way that we want to show up in the world.”
  • Connect: Follow The Town Kitchen on FacebookTwitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Plus, you can follow Sabrina on Twitter or email her, too!

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