Many parts of the pueblo have long been denied access to fresh, healthy foods in their communities, including the West Side.
Jocelyn Martinez, founder of SoulSmile Heath and Wellness, has spent time growing up with her family in Hyde Park and is well aware of the community’s needs.
After spending a decade in the restaurant industry in Denver, Martinez saw the positive change that could occur when he opened a restaurant dedicated to helping the community in an underserved neighborhood.
When I first came back to the pueblo, I was surprised to see that almost nothing had changed in the neighborhood in terms of access to fresh food. Currently, it takes about 15 minutes by car one way to get to a retailer that offers fresh food options.
“There’s nothing here, no way to get food, nothing,” Martinez said. “So my dream has always been to bring food to our community.”
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Now, Martinez intends to translate the positive change she’s seen in Denver to the Pueblo West Side with SoulSmile Kitchen, which she expects to be up and running by the end of the month.
She said she wanted to show people “you can still eat healthy, affordable and delicious food.” “It’s a zero-deprivation way of eating that’s sustainable.”
Martinez is a certified mental health coach who specializes in gluten-free and dairy-free meals and started serving her meals just two years ago. They source most of their ingredients locally and emphasize seasonal produce in their recipes as well as using antibiotic-free meats.
While some people may not be used to eating gluten-free and dairy-free foods, she hopes her restaurant and personal experience will help people gain the courage to try something new.
“I’ve been gluten-free and dairy-free for four and a half years and have done it for health reasons and it’s been a life changer,” she said.
Furthermore, Martinez stresses that making this change in your diet does not mean you are missing out on certain foods or flavor, which is a common misconception.
“We live in a time when there are so many choices of different products that you can still get pizza, you can still have enchiladas, you can still have pasta,” she said. “It will be a little different but that doesn’t mean it has to be tasteless.”
When her original brick-and-mortar site became unavailable, Martinez stumbled upon a fully-equipped mobile kitchen trailer she had purchased and parked in an open yard on her family’s Hyde Park property. From there the process of making the restaurant a staple of the neighborhood began, which required a re-zoning across the city.
With the land rezoning approved unanimously during a city council meeting on January 10, SoulSmile Kitchen has overcome its last official hurdle, Martinez said.
It is now expanding its business to include existing meal delivery customers as well as local residents who wish to pre-order or order family meals on the day. Furthermore, Martinez hopes to welcome roving clients as well once the weather warms up, taking advantage of the crowds for extracurricular activities at nearby Dolores Huerta Preparatory High School.
Martinez said she also hopes to welcome other like-minded chefs and bakers into the kitchen who are interested in sharing more fresh choices with the community.
“There are so many things going on with DHPH, and there are so many expansions that are being prepared here that it looks like, ‘Why not bring sustainable food to the community that you want to serve? “So it’s like you’re bringing him home.”
Monique Maris, Pueblo Food Project coordinator, is looking forward to the positive impact a concept like SoulSmile Kitchen can bring to the region.
“It’s a paraphrase of what we prioritize as a community and I’m so excited that Jocelyn will not only serve but educate about how important it is to connect with your diet,” said Maryse.
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Martinez is part of the new Entrepreneur Development Program suite for the Pueblo Food Project, which will be officially launched next week. SoulSmile’s Kitchen is just one of 13 different projects that hope to tackle the problem of lack of access to food.
“We are very excited about the opportunity for that community, this part about economic development and supporting people who have a great idea but probably don’t quite know how to get there,” said Maris.
“We are very excited to have Jocelyn be part of this group as well as other companies looking to make local food a reality here.”
Contact President Correspondent Lacey Latch at firstname.lastname@example.org or on social media @laceylatch.