Organizing to open a halal kitchen at the new Northland Community Center

As it seeks to make more immigrant families in northeast Columbus feel at home, community development organization Elevate Northland is focusing on one room in particular: the kitchen.

With the help of a recently awarded grant, the organization hopes to open a halal-friendly kitchen at its new headquarters next year to benefit residents and entrepreneurs in the diverse neighborhood. Halal foods are considered permitted under Islamic religious rules.

Elevate Northland was one of the five finalists of the fourth edition Philanthropitch Columbus contest at the Riffe Center last month and received $37,629 to help with the project.

“It is something that is necessary” Judith Cockrell, Executive Director of Elevation Northland mentioned. “And I believe the need in the region is being noticed. I feel, personally, that I have to be responsible for taking care of my community, my neighborhood.”

However, there is still a long way to go before the kitchen can be created. The total cost of the project is expected to be $400,000, mostly due to an increase in the price of materials, Cockrell said. The commercial kitchen will be approximately 1,575 square feet, with Cameron Mitchell Restaurants overseeing the development of the cooking area.

To raise additional funds, Elevate Northland is working with a group of fundraising consultants and plans to hold fundraising events throughout the year.

The kitchen will be part of the organization’s new location at 4848 Evanswood Drive, called the Northland Community Center, which is also slated to open next year.

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Katie Hall, executive director of Philanthropitch, said Elevate Northland’s presentation stood out because her team is creating a “supportive ecosystem” for the Northland region by addressing several community needs.

“Halal food is one of them, but there’s also another rental potential there, and so their business model really stood out for us…” she said.

A need in the community

The people of Northland are becoming more diverse, as large populations of Nepalese Somali and Bhutanese immigrants settle in the neighborhood.

According to the 2020 census, the number of minority residents has increased by 45% over the past 10 years within the 18 census tracts bounded roughly by Interstate 270 on the north and east, Morse Road on the south, and the city limits of Worthington on the west. Currently, about 62,000 people out of 97,000 in the region belong to minority groups.

Additionally, more than 99% of the Somali population is Muslim, says a 2020 report from the US State Department.

But halal food can be hard to come by in Columbus, said Laura Berger Abbas, chief operating officer of the nonprofit Our Helpers, which provides resources for immigrant and refugee families. About 80% of the people served by the organization are Somalis.

“There are only a limited number of butchers in town that sell halal meat,” she said.

Cockrell said he had a conversation about limited halal food options with Abbas at a meeting hosted by community organization Northland Alliance. It was then that she decided to focus on Philanthropitch, that supports nonprofit businesses in four cities: Columbus, Austin, San Antonio and Philadelphia.

Elevate Northland Executive Director Judith Cockrell speaks to a panel of judges at the Philanthropitch Competition at the Riffe Center in downtown Columbus.  The nonprofit pitch competition was held in April.

Cockrell said the difference between halal cuisine and standard cuisine is that the preparation of the food is specific and cannot be mixed with non-halal foods, such as pork, pork products or alcohol. . In addition, the food must be halal certified, which can be identified by a halal symbol on the packaging, according to the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America.

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Halal and non-halal foods should be kept separate and different kitchen utensils should be used when handling animal meat or alcohol. Cockrell said the kitchen will not allow non-halal food when community members wish to cook.

Judith Cockrell took over as the first Executive Director of Elevate Northland on October 1.

A way for entrepreneurs to grow

The Elevate Northland leader said she hopes the kitchen can be a launching pad for entrepreneurs.

She wants the kitchen to be open to catering and catering businesses and those who want to start a food business. She also wants to work with neighborhood charter schools so students can have access to halal food.

“I’m glad there’s an opportunity for me to help others, to help people feel welcomed and included,” Cockrell said.

Abbas agrees that halal cuisine will benefit Northland. She said several people in the Somali community have asked her for fundraising ideas for initiatives such as an after-school cultural food program and an entrepreneurial food program for women.

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“There really isn’t a big space for rent that’s halal cooking,” Abbas said. “I have people doing small home catering and they aspire to be a bigger business, but they can’t afford to hire a halal kitchen anywhere in the area.

“This is a huge opportunity for immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs to open bigger restaurant businesses.”

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Aubrey L. Morgan