Meet the Director of the Street Food Institute of Albuquerque

It was everyone’s worst nightmare.

Tina Garcia-Shams and her catering team were heading to Santa Fe in two large catering trucks to feed 200 wedding guests when one of the vehicles blew a tire north of Bernalillo.

They figured the quickest thing to do was to transfer everything to the other truck and Garcia-Shams’ personal vehicle and get on their way as quickly as possible.

But 10 miles later they came to a screeching halt again. This time it was due to an accident which caused “a big queue of traffic”.

“That’s when a bit of panic set in,” says Garcia-Shams, executive director of the Street Food Institute.

Her story had a happy ending, though: While Garcia-Shams and the Chiefs arrived later than expected, they coordinated with the wedding planner the entire way and managed to pull it off.

And that reflects what Garcia-Shams is all about: staying flexible enough to juggle the myriad roles his nonprofit plays in training students and entrepreneurs who want to run a food truck or other business. of restoration.

“…Street food is a real hit…whether it’s served from a two-wheeled cart, a pop-up stall, or a full-fledged kitchen on wheels,” the site explains. Garcia-Shams web.

The 8-year-old Street Food Institute, housed in a police station kitchen at Central New Mexico Community College, not only trains CNM students, but also anyone interested in starting a mobile food business.

Participants run the CNM cafeteria and deliver food by truck to established customers like Intel, where they deliver lunch five days a week. Six established businesses also use the kitchen, including a private chef.

Big changes are expected in a few years, when Street Food expands into a new building at Fourth and Bell, to be built by homeownership organization, Homewise. Additionally, as part of a grant it will receive, Street Food will launch an online program and develop partnerships in San Juan and Grants counties.

“What’s been so great about this organization is the flexibility to follow an organic path,” says Garcia-Shams. “There wasn’t, ‘We’re doing this, and that’s all we’re going to do.’ We were really open to the opportunities that came our way and we tried them.

Is there a student or entrepreneur you are particularly proud of?

“There were so many. We had a student (with) a food truck called Fiesta Mexican food truck. Her name is Lilia Avila. She and her partner, Silvia Ochoa, were losing money, so they followed our course and we were really able to help them. What was happening was that they really didn’t understand the costs. It’s so important to think about what it’s costing you – not just the ingredients, but your time. And how do you factor that into your costs that you charge people? They decided to take a class at Three Sisters Kitchen, which is also a great partner for us. They (Avila and Ochoa) sell salsa, and they developed a very unique product – a salsa, a mole, a guacamole, a red chili, a green chili – all powdered, and just add water What we tell our students is is that a source of income isn’t necessarily going to make you financially successful, so what can you do? go more than what you do? There is a very slim profit margin in this business. I think for me they stand out (because they) were both immigrant women. They had a resilience like you can’t imagine and perseverance, and they were also, really, really open to other ideas. They really got to see their ideas and products grow.

What are your favorite dishes?

“My husband is from Iran. He’s a great cook. He makes really wonderful Persian food. A few of my favorite dishes are kebabs and rice. Also a dish called fesenjan. It is a stew with chicken, pomegranate and nuts that is put on rice.

What are your pet peeves?

“People are late.”

What makes you sad ?

“There have been many losses in my family. I no longer have any parents or siblings. It’s very sad for me. But I think in normal life, what makes me sad is people – and even myself, I’m certainly not always my best – but people who don’t show kindness to others.

Do most of your aspiring entrepreneurs run their own food truck?

“I think this program is just as important for people to know if it’s the right path before they put in all their resources – financial and time. Someone who just loves to cook won’t necessarily want to start a business. C It’s hard, hard work, so you must really like it Our mission is to help individuals start small businesses, but what really happens is that because of our internships, a lot of people, especially CNM students, didn’t have real cooking experience. Many wanted that experience. Maybe they went to work in a restaurant. To be honest with you, it’s really a entrepreneurship training program, but it has also become a workforce training program.

You had no experience in the food industry when you left Amy Biehl High School for the Street Food Institute. Why did you take the leap?

“A friend of mine and a former Amy Biehl board member had reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, I’m consulting on this project. They are looking for a coordinator. Are you interested?’ I guess at first it was because it was new. This startup idea really appealed to me. I really liked wearing a lot of hats, doing a bit of everything. As he grew I think what really held me back was just being part of someone’s dream and journey – I mean our entrepreneurs who came to our classes and wanted start their own business. And watch that progress and be part of that progress, and then see it fly. This is the piece that I like. »

THE BASICS: Tina Michele Garcia-Shams, 57, born in Albuquerque; married to Saeed Shams since 1992; one child, Ariana Isabel Shams, 26; a dog, Boots, “a mixture of many things”; Secondary Education Alternative License Program, College of Santa Fe, 2005; bachelor’s degree, university studies, University of New Mexico, 1994.

POSTS: Executive Director, Street Food Institute, since 2017; Director of Community Relations, Street Food Institute/Simon Charitable Foundation, 2013-2017; Director of Community Engagement, Teacher, Counselor, Director of Human Resources, Amy Biehl High School, 2001-2013.

OTHER: Board Member, Amy Biehl Foundation and Robert F. Kennedy Charter School; Street Food Institute has worked with World Central Kitchen during COVID to deliver weekly meals to the Madrid and Edgewood areas; organizer, Salud y Sabor, free monthly event; participated in a pilot program bringing fresh produce to designated “food deserts” in the South Valley and International District.

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