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DishUp RI launches 13 products from local restaurant entrepreneurs

Products created by owners, chefs of restaurants like Kabob and Curry now available at all Dave’s Fresh Marketplace locations

May 21 wasn’t just the day COVID-19 capacity restrictions were lifted after over a year for Rhode Island restaurants. It was also the day some restaurateurs ventured into retail by releasing locally made products — like a spice mix with flavors from Kabob and Curry or Elena’s Sweet Corn Cakes from La Arepa — for sale on the shelves of Dave’s Fresh Marketplace.

Local restaurant owners and politicians alike gathered at the Dave’s Fresh Marketplace in East Greenwich for the official launch of 13 new goods created by local eateries.

The products, which range from packaged teas to clam cake mix, were made possible by DishUp RI, a program started by the nonprofit Hope & Main, Rhode Island’s first culinary incubator. The program, created last fall, is funded by a grant from the Federal CARES Act. 

When restaurants had to close their dining rooms last year, several sought help from Hope & Main to create new products “so people can experience (their) restaurants at home,” Lisa Raiola ’84, president and founder of Hope & Main, told The Herald. “I thought that this could be a big help to restaurants,” she said, and the organization applied for a technical assistance grant to assist in guiding the nascent entrepreneurs through the process of creating a product from start to finish.

“After many months of lockdown, this is the perfect way to dish up R.I.,” Raiola said.

Each entrepreneur produced about 600 units for the launch, Raiola said, and $50,000 worth of products were purchased by Dave’s Fresh Market — money that is circulating back into the economy in the form of “local, sustainable investment.” 

Although only 13 products went public Friday, there are 33 entrepreneurs in the program. More products will be released throughout the summer, Raiola said. 

“We’ve created alternative revenue streams for these small businesses, we’re building a distinct new food sector for Dave’s Market and other local grocers and we are providing the Rhode Island consumer with dozens of new ways of enjoying their local favorites at home,” she said.

Chef Sanjiv Dhar, owner of Thayer Street’s Kabob and Curry, Rasoi, Rasa and Chaska restaurants, released a curry spice mix in collaboration with DishUp. He explained that after being in business for 30 years, he realized the hospitality and restaurant industries would be “changed forever” by the pandemic. Dhar said he was grateful that DishUp RI allowed him the opportunity to share Indian flavors with Rhode Island residents.

DishUp RI “helped me execute it in a commercially responsible way,” Dhar said. “From restaurant to retail is a journey I could not have taken without the technical help of these incredible people.”

RI Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor specifically acknowledged Omallys Hopper, another participant in DishUp RI, for pivoting from her makeup business to becoming a viral chef on social media under the moniker “Cooking Con Omi,” which she started last April. She has since accumulated 293,800 TikTok followers and 145,000 Instagram followers and created her own sofrito sauce through DishUp RI. 


[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="200"]

Omallys Hopper immigrated from Puerto Rico to Rhode Island at age 11 and said she is “as much Puerto Rican as I am a Rhode Islander.”[/caption] 

Hopper told The Herald that she started her social media presence to keep herself entertained during the pandemic and to show people how to cook traditional Puerto Rican dishes. She immigrated from Puerto Rico to Rhode Island at age 11 and is “as much Puerto Rican as I am a Rhode Islander,” she said. 

Hopper said that she chose to create a sofrito sauce because it was one of the first recipes to go viral on her channel and is very faithful to her grandmother’s recipe. DishUp RI went smoothly, she said, because the staff guided her through every step and made it “not impossible to dream.” 

Her sauce is already sold out in three stores, she added.

In Sen. Jack Reed’s speech at the event, he noted that during the pandemic “no area was more deeply affected than the restaurant industry.”

Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, speaking on behalf of herself and Gov. Dan McKee, emphasized the perseverance restaurant owners have demonstrated throughout the pandemic.

“DishUp is allowing for everyone to enjoy a taste of Rhode Island,” Matos said. “It also helps to expand the food economy.”

President of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association Dale Venturini expressed her pride for the products released last Friday and how restaurants throughout the state have weathered the pandemic.

Venturini is hopeful that the restaurant industry can work back to pre-pandemic operations and profits. “Rhode Islanders can get this done.”

Pryor highlighted how funding from the CARES Act could be funneled back into communities in inventive ways. The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation provided a Federal CARES Act grant for the DishUp project.

Rhode Island officially eliminated capacity restrictions Friday, the day DishUp products were released in stores. Pryor emphasized that this designated the start of post-pandemic life for restaurants and Ocean State residents alike. “This is a wonderful day in Rhode Island,” Pryor said. “This is our first day where we are at 100 percent capacity.”

Nohemi Rodriguez, owner of the restaurant La Arepa in Pawtucket, gave an emotional speech in Spanish, conveying her gratitude to the public officials and DishUp RI. “We started in a food truck, and now this dream is a reality,” Rodriguez said.

“The best of Rhode Island is served up today,” Raiola said in closing. “We hope that we clear the shelves.”


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