Fast Food Gets Healthier with San Francisco Foundation Funding

Fast food has a terrible reputation of being greasy, unhealthy, and lacking any sort of quality. The mission of one San Francisco entrepreneur, Koji Kanematsu, is to revolutionize fast food with a healthy and sustainable alternative. With guidance and training from of a local nonprofit funded by the San Francisco Foundation (SFF), Kanematsu just opened his first healthy fast food eatery on Kearney Street, Onigilly.

Kanematsu's dream began turning into reality when he got involved with the nonprofit organization, La Cocina. This nonprofit provides low-income food entrepreneurs with affordable commercial kitchen space, technical assistance, and access to market opportunities. As part of the San Francisco Foundation's Job Training and Creation program, the foundation awarded a $50,000 grant to La Cocina to provide enterprise incubation services to low-income food entrepreneurs in San Francisco. This program focuses specifically on aspiring entrepreneurs from communities of color and immigrant communities. (Read San Francisco Foundation: Bay Area Grants).

This grant money to La Cocina also helped Mariko Grady open Aedan Fermented Foods, Alicia Villanueva open Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas, Binita Pradhan open Bini's Kitchen, and Eji Atlaw open Eli's Ethiopian. The JP Morgan Chase Foundation, Bank of America Foundation, Levi Strauss Foundation, and Blue Shield of CA Foundation have always awarded grants to La Cocina in the past.

At Onigilly, Kanematsu, who emigrated to the U.S. in 2006, and his small staff serve Japanese-style seaweed-wrapped rice balls with savory cooked fillings. This is a favorite type of street food in Japan, known as onigiri, and it's making a big hit with the downtown lunch crowd in San Francisco. Curious and hungry diners can watch the kitchen staff fold sheets of seaweed over organically-grown brown rice and locally-sourced meat, seafood, kale, and sesame. Individual onigiri will cost you $3.25 each and a satisfying set of three runs $8.28. Kanemastu even has a liquor license, serving up local 21st Amendment beer and Ozeki sake. Very cool. 

$50,000 was the average grant size for SFF's Job Training and Creation program awards in 2013. Last year, the foundation awarded 33 grants totaling $1,507,027 in this program area to place low-income, low-skilled workers with employment opportunities that offer sustainable wages and advancement.

“I’d like to offer my customers the kind of food which I feel safe about feeding my own child,” Kanematsu explained when asked about maintaining an environmentally-sustainable restaurant. “We plan to expand bigger and bigger, so I need to create a system to keep the waste at a minimum now.”