Several parts of Pueblo have long been without access to fresh, healthy food in their communities, including the West Side.
Jocelyn Martinez, the founder of SoulSmile Heath and Wellness, spent time growing up with her family in the Hyde Park neighborhood and is acutely aware of the needs of the community.
After spending a decade in the restaurant industry in Denver, Martinez saw the positive change that can happen when a restaurant dedicated to helping the community opens in an underserved neighborhood.
When she first moved back to Pueblo, she was surprised to see that almost nothing had changed for the neighborhood in terms of access to fresh food. Right now, it takes about a 15-minute drive one-way to get to a retailer that offers fresh food options.
“There’s nothing here, there’s no way to get food, nothing,” Martinez said. “So it’s always been this dream of mine to bring food to our community.”
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Now, Martinez intends to translate the positive change she saw in Denver to Pueblo’s west side with SoulSmile Kitchen, which she expects to be up and running by the end of the month.
She wants to show people “You can still eat healthy in an affordable way that’s delicious,” she said. “It’s a deprivation-free way of eating and it’s sustainable.”
Martinez is a certified health and mindset coach who specializes in gluten-free, dairy-free meals and began her meal delivery service just two years ago. She sources most of her ingredients locally and emphasizes in-season produce in her recipes as well as using antibiotic-free meat.
While some people might not be used to eating gluten and dairy-free foods, she hopes that both her restaurant and her personal experience will help people get the courage to try something new.
“I have been gluten-free, dairy-free for four and a half years and I did it for health reasons and it was life-changing for me,” she said.
Moreover, Martinez emphasizes that making this change in your diet does not equate to a loss of certain foods or flavor, a common misconception.
“We live in a time where there’s tons of options for different products that you can still have pizza, you can still have enchiladas, you can still have pasta,” she said. “It just will be a little bit different but that doesn’t mean it has to be flavorless.”
When her original brick and mortar location became unavailable, Martinez came across a fully-stocked mobile kitchen trailer that she purchased and parked in an open lot on her family’s property in Hyde Park. From there she began the process of making the restaurant an official fixture of the neighborhood, which required re-zoning through the city.
With the re-zoning of the land approved unanimously during the Jan. 10 City Council meeting, SoulSmile Kitchen has overcome the last official hurdle, Martinez said.
Now she’s branching out her business to include her current meal delivery clients as well as locals who want to pre-order family meals or order the day of. Further, Martinez hopes to welcome walk-up customers as well once the weather warms up, capitalizing on the crowds for the extracurricular activities at nearby Dolores Huerta Preparatory High School.
Martinez said she also hopes to welcome other like-minded chefs and bakers to the kitchen who are interested in sharing even more fresh options with the community.
“There’s so much stuff going on with DHPH, and there’s so much expansion getting ready to happen around here that it’s like, ‘Why not bring sustainable food to the community in which you want to serve?’ So it’s like you’re bringing it home.”
Monique Marez, the coordinator of the Pueblo Food Project, is looking forward to the positive impact that a concept like SoulSmile Kitchen could bring to the area.
“It’s a reframe on what we prioritize as a community and I’m so excited that Jocelyn will not only be serving but also educating on how valuable it is to really connect with your food system,” Marez said.
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Martinez is part of the cohort of the Pueblo Food Project’s new entrepreneur startup development program, which will be officially launched next week. SoulSmile Kitchen is just one of 13 different projects hoping to address the issue of food inaccessibility.
“We are very excited to bring opportunities for that community development, that economic development piece and support folks who have a great idea but perhaps don’t quite know how to get there,” Marez said.
“We’re very excited to have Jocelyn as part of that cohort as well as the other businesses that are looking to make local food a reality here.”
Contact Chieftain reporter Lacey Latch at [email protected] or on social media @laceylatch.