Oakland small businesses honored at Work Local Awards party
on May 4, 2016
The kitchen on the third floor of The Port Workspaces in downtown Oakland has been bustling with life since six in the morning. Isaiah Rivera moves swiftly from one counter to another, packing food into white boxes and neatly aligning them across the metal countertop. In the back, his colleagues are marinating chicken thighs and cooking them over a high fire.
This is life at The Town Kitchen, an Oakland-based food delivery startup that employs and empowers young low-income workers. “We provide youth with entrepreneurship training, college course and fair-wage jobs,” said cofounder and CEO Sabrina Mutukisna.
Last Thursday, The Town Kitchen was awarded the “Most Community-Oriented Employer” at the Work Local Awards party. The award aims to recognize and celebrate the best employers in the Bay Area. It was organized by Localwise, a group that helps Bay Area businesses hire local employees, in partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
“Hiring in the Bay Area is a huge challenge for local businesses,” said Maya Tobias, the cofounder of Localwise. “Rent is increasing faster than ever, wages are increasing, and it’s harder and harder to compete for talent.” Tobias said that the Work Local Awards is one of the ways that Localwise tries to help connect local businesses to potential employees. “If they got nominated, this is something they can promote and say: ‘I was nominated for this Work Local Award. This is another reason to come work here.’”
The Town Kitchen has benefitted greatly from listing their job ads with Localwise, said Mutukisna, as it “gives them access to great talents and makes the hiring process less painful.” Her company currently employs five full-time staffers and 11 young people who make at least $15 per hour, she said.
Isaiah Rivera was one of the first people employed by The Town Kitchen. He has just passed his one-year mark working with the company. Working there “has actually saved my life,” said Rivera. “I have my oldest daughter. I was separated from her for a while. So I have to get back on my feet. What better way to put myself on my feet than to come here? Everything I do, I do for her. So it’s a big accomplishment for me.”
Rivera also said that everyone in the company considers themselves part of a family. “From the gate when you walk in, you feel the love,” he said. “If you disrespect one of us, you disrespect all of us.”
And the best part of working at The Town Kitchen? “Eating. You see all the chicken over there? If you can think of it, you come up with it, you can eat it,” said Rivera.
In addition to The Town Kitchen, six other Oakland companies bagged other Work Local Awards during the night.
Manifesta, founded by K.C. Lutes, Lindsay Barnhardt and Mireya Albarran, won the “Best Employer: Salon & Spa” award. The co-founders started out as coworkers in a different salon. “When we started our own salon, one of the main things that we wanted to do was to make it a great place to work. We really wanted to take employee input and use it in our everyday operation,” said Barnhardt.
“When we were developing the business identity, we decided that the business core values should be consideration, reciprocity, and craftsmanship. And that is in all aspects of the business and not just in our relationship to the community and the client, but also to our employees,” said Lutes. She also said that Manifesta places importance on providing continuing education for their employees through access to education funding.
Employees at Lake Merritt Dental, who won the “Best Employer: Professional Services” award, say the practice keeps them happy by taking their needs into consideration. “Not only are we offering way above the living wage, we really consider giving them a lot of extra perks. Other than just health care benefits and parking and commuter benefits, we do retirement. We invite them out to tons of events as a team just for community-building with our own office,” said manager Paulina Song. “It’s a very community family feel with all of our staff, so I think they really appreciate that because then work doesn’t feel like work. You are just hanging out with your family.”
Restaurant and bar Duende won the “Best Employer: Food & Drink” category, health and fitness center Truve for “Best Employer: Health & Fitness,” nonprofit organization Global Glimpse for “Most Diverse Team” and fitness center Brooklyn Academy Roots for “Coolest Workspace.” Many other Oakland companies had also made it to the final rounds in various categories.
“Since the beginning, Oakland has been one of our biggest supporters,” said Tobias about the relationship between Localwise and the city’s business community. “There is really a lot of camaraderie among small independent businesses in Oakland more than probably other cities I have seen.”
Localwise will move its operations from Berkeley to Oakland on June 1, she said. “We have definitely been embraced by the Oakland community very strongly.”
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