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Rima Barkett, Stockton Community Kitchen and International Food Hub: Cooking Up Success for Women

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Something wonderful is cooking over at Rima Barkett’s Bella Vista Restaurant and Rooftop Events venue, and it’s more than fabulous food. It’s the sweet smell of opportunity for talented cooks who want to learn how to open their own food businesses. The Stockton Community Kitchen and International Food Hub trains these participants in the entrepreneurial skills needed to succeed. 

Monday through Friday, select cooks produce their unique lunch cuisine, selling it to a hungry public from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. via Door Dash and/or pickup. Original ethnic foods are showcased and often featured in the International Food Hub’s social media posts to keep customers updated and inspired. 

Kitchen Incubator
Rima, who hails from the Tuscany region of Italy, described her attraction to the restaurant business. “It gave me the opportunity to share my love, because I love to feed people, to make people happy with my food.” She had plenty of experience running a restaurant and had already operated a nonprofit for over ten years, so it was a natural fit when Stockton leaders approached her with the idea to build a more diverse food industry by establishing a “kitchen incubator,” a project modeled after one in San Francisco that nurtures hardworking cooks into fledgling restaurant owners. 

“I loved the concept,” Rima said, speaking from the heart. “To elevate a society, you need to give the opportunity of a hand up to women. If women are doing well, they can be better mothers, raise peaceful and confident children, and that’s what improves our society.” After a cook submits her application to the Stockton Community Kitchen, there is a selection process. “We choose very outstanding cooks first and foremost. They provide food samples, tastings, and if we find that they have ‘that something special’ and we think they will succeed, then we select them for three to six months of training here before they move on. A lot of people are surprised to discover that this training is free to the cooks.” To her protégées, Rima preaches a work ethic mirroring her own. “I tell them ‘commitment, commitment, commitment’ is the secret to success! You show up, and work, work, work. Come back the next day and do it again.” Even with her years of experience, Rima added, “I’m still learning every day!” 

The Chefs
Antoinette Miller, owner of Chef Net Soul Food, currently dishes up her popular specialties, which change regularly but include fried fish, green beans, creamy mac ’n’ cheese and cornbread, just to name a few, all made from scratch, all exceptionally delicious. Alongside her, Krista “Tita” Lucero, owner of Koquito, serves her scrumptious vegan/plant-based versions of her Puerto Rican family recipes, such as irresistible empanadas with citrus sauce, flavorful rice with pink beans and delectable gourmet green salads. Also vegan is the homestyle cuisine of Comida de Jen, with its tempting array of authentic Mexican comfort foods including tamales, birria tacos and homemade salsas. With beaming smiles, their joy and enthusiasm are palpable as these ladies share their gift of food with others. 

Rima looks forward to seeing her students succeed as others have already done. “Seeing these women open their businesses and succeed is what I want most. We find a way to help with whatever they need.” There’s plenty of work to be done as they enter fall, their busiest season. When one group of cooks graduates, another is already on its way in, thanks to Rima’s generous spirit and actions to help these entrepreneurs soar. While the foods and the entrepreneur-cooks are many and may change from week to week, there is one person Rima credits as the grounding force for the whole program, Leonel Castillo. “He is my right hand at the foundation and he is a big part of its success.” Leonel started the Stockton Community Kitchen with Rima and she feels strongly about giving him the recognition due. “He was there from the beginning and deserves the credit.” 

More Opportunities
The commercial kitchen is so big and has so many independent production areas, that it also accommodates the preparation of thousands of Meals on Wheels and Food Care meals without overlapping or interfering with Rima’s students’ operation up front. In fact, most people don’t realize this, but the commercial kitchen is also available for rent to professional caterers in hourly and daily increments for special projects and the cost is very reasonable. 

“One of the Stockton jewels is our view from the Bella Vista rooftop.” Apropos of its name, “beautiful view” in Italian, the venue boasts what is indeed likely the best and most beautiful view of the waterways. “From up there you can easily imagine yourself to be at a resort, somewhere very special,” she observed, and her guests agree; the location is truly a hidden gem. Describing some of the options for special events, Rima says Bella Vista proudly offers an array of superb Italian and Mexican foods. “Bartenders, full bar, it’s all available if you want,” she added, “Chairs, tables, servers, all included!” The rooftop is open until 10:00 p.m. and downstairs until midnight. “Weddings, office meetings, reunions, quinceaneras, celebrations of any kind, we do a beautiful job!”

Bella Vista is located at 110 N. El Dorado Street, Stockton, (209) 608-5455 or (209) 949-2104; visit to order foods online; to learn more about the foundation; and