Comal Heritage Food Incubator will move to RiNo Artpark

After six years, Comal Heritage Food Incubator is closing up shop in the Taxi mixed-used development in the River North Art District. But that won’t last long: This summer, the award-winning operation will reopen nearby as a bigger restaurant and teaching kitchen within the 2,600-square-foot space of RiNo ArtPark, at 1900 35th St.

“The ArtPark outpost has twice as much space as Comal’s current location, which will allow us to better serve the community with larger cohorts of participants and more diverse equipment to accommodate a variety of businesses and trainees,” said Jules Kelty, executive director of Focus Points Family Resource Center, which runs Comal.

“We’re also looking forward to collaborating with all of the nonprofit partners, including Redline Denver, Denver Public Library and, of course, RiNo Art District,” Kelty added.

Since its founding in October 2016, the Comal training program, at 3455 Ringsby Court, has hosted 34 participants and helped launch 10 businesses. The concept is based on a “learn-while-you-earn” model, aimed at supporting women — especially refugees — faced with gentrification, immigration and language barriers, all while keeping their food cultures intact.

The word “comal” comes from a traditional clay griddle used to cook tortillas in Mexico and Central America, which would often be handed down from mother to daughter. In that way, Comal hands down the tools these women need to grow and support themselves, the organization says.

The new spot — directly across the South Platte River from Taxi — will also allow Comal to expand its current Tuesday-through-Friday lunch service with longer hours, a breakfast menu, a full bar and catering options. Not only will the offerings grow, but the physical space Comal takes over also includes indoor-outdoor seating, a large back-of-house area, a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen and a commissary space.

“The commissary space is something that the community has requested for the last several years,” added Kelty. “We’re excited to be able to offer it to participants at below-market-rate, removing barriers to making their business dreams come true.”

While the setting will change, expect the menu to still feature foods from Mexico, Central America and South America. On the current menu, that includes pollo a la Tocatlán (spiced chicken with cactus, wrapped in a banana leaf); ensalada de nopales (cactus salad with fresh cilantro, pickled jalapenos, avocado, queso fresco and tomatoes); and camarones a la diabla (spicy shrimp).

After about eight months working in Comal, many of the participants go on to build their own businesses. For example, in 2021, Comal graduate Silvia Hernandez opened Silva at Lost City, also in the Taxi campus, where she serves breakfast burritos and build-your-own bowls with Oaxacan chicken and Caribbean shrimp.

The backbone of Comal fits in with ArtPark’s mission statement, which is to provide affordable artist space and studios, launch small businesses, and nurture emerging talent. The venue has partnered with RedLine Contemporary Art Center to help fulfill this goal, as well as with the Denver Public Library and the city of Denver.

“ArtPark represents a unique convergence of creative expression, entrepreneurialism and community empowerment,” said John Deffenbaugh, senior director of strategy and projects with RiNo Art District. “Comal is such a natural fit for what we’re doing here, and we can’t wait to see what new creative endeavors are sparked from having visual, performance, literary and culinary arts all in one beautiful location.”

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