DDF Food Hub - Hot Cuisine, Cool People - Interview with Jenna Smart


Jenna in the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub Kitchen


Founded in January 2020, the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub has grown to include 16 staff members, a rotating group of on-the-job trainees (OJT), and a roster of 38 small businesses that lease affordable space in the Food Hub’s state-of-the-art commercial kitchen.


The Food Hub is a vital part of the County’s food recovery effort, which is eliminating waste, reducing greenhouse gasses, and addressing the County’s hunger crisis by collecting healthy, uneaten food from hospitals, schools, and other institutions and redistributing the food to residents.


The Food Hub represents a significant investment in Built Capital, with financial support from the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Community Vision, and the Stupski Foundation. None of these investments would not have been possible without support from Supervisor Wilma Chan, who passed away late last year.


Built Capital is one of seven kinds of investments vital to creating a healthy, vibrant, safe community with a flourishing economy as part of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Community Capitals Policing initiative.


We recently interviewed the Food Hub’s Kitchen Executive and Events Manager, Jenna Smart, to learn more about the evolution of the facility and the measures Jenna and her team are taking to keep our community safe and fed during the pandemic. Jenna’s background as executive chef, entrepreneur, and social media maven makes her the perfect person to lead the Food Hub, mentor the entrepreneurs, and build a strong community among employees, food vendors, and volunteers.



DSAL: Tell us a little bit about the Food Hub’s tenants. What are some of the food products being produced in the facility?


Jenna: Oh, man. I could give a TED Talk on how cool the food is here! Thank Que Grill does a new twist on Filipino food, like nothing I've ever seen before. It's phenomenal. Then we have Snow Fresca that does shaved ice and a food truck that makes boba, coffees, organic infused teas, and smoothies. We have someone who makes charcuterie boards, a handful of private chefs, and catering companies that make prepackaged meals or family meals for events and holidays. For example, for Valentine's Day, Aurora Catering made this amazing Valentine's Day dinner, where they par-cook everything so you just have to pick it up, shove it in your oven, and then you have a gorgeous gourmet meal. Crisps & Crackles makes chips from mung beans. Oh my God! She has this jalapeno-vinegar one that I could eat every day and be very happy.


DSAL: How have you kept the employees, tenants, and volunteers safe during the pandemic?


Jenna: It's all about communication, keeping everybody informed about everything that's going on, and making sure we have proper procedures in place. If somebody does test positive, we have clear steps in place to keep everyone safe.


For example, even though the food drive is contactless—our volunteers and employees put the groceries directly in the trunks of the cars—we still have to collect data. So, we came up with a safer way for the people to collect who by requiring masks for everybody who comes up here to pick up and receive food items.


DSAL: How did you get here, Jenna? What is your backstory?


Jenna: I'm a chef. I was an executive chef at LinkedIn. Before that, I ran the catering department at the Federal Reserve San Francisco and a bunch of other places.


I left my job at LinkedIn a week before the pandemic. I was in the process of accepting a job at a kitchen design firm, but then the pandemic happened, and that opportunity disappeared.


After that I floated around for a little bit. I worked for a startup running their social media, just to keep working. One evening I got together on Zoom with a friend who was also an out-of-work chef. We encouraged each other to apply to all kinds of jobs, and that’s when I discovered and applied for the Food Hub co-manager job, and they called me! Honestly, out of all the jobs I applied for, out of all the jobs that I interviewed for, this was the one that I would be legitimately mad about if they didn't offer me a job. I wanted to be here so bad.


DSAL: What brings you the most joy and satisfaction at your job?


Jenna: The free food is pretty chill (laughs), but helping these budding and established entrepreneurs is amazing, because I was on the other side. Other commercial kitchens have a lot of perks, but they are ridiculously expensive. Here, we give these entrepreneurs business counseling support, and we generate social media awareness. I also do a lot of consulting with the businesses, because the permit process is a nightmare. We help with permitting and provide other guidance to make them successful.


We have a strong community here. Legitimately, people in this kitchen have created their own community. For example, the supply chain crisis was really affecting the entrepreneurs, so they started meeting to help each other. Some places have a lot of drama, but everyone is so cool here. It's ridiculous.



 


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