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Burlington’s Tiny Community Kitchen shares cuisine from around the world

Two photos side by side: on left, a man standing with a blue and white flag outside of the restaurant, and on right, a woman wearing a light pink hijab holding a dish while smiling.
Leah Collier
The Tiny Community Kitchen sits near the corner of North Street and North Winooski Avenue in Burlington. Jilib Jiblets and Sabah's House Iraqi food are two of the businesses that operate weekly pop-ups out of the small restaurant space.

From Thursday through Saturday, Burlington's Tiny Community Kitchen transforms into a Montreal poutinerie. The sound and scent of cold spuds frying up invite curious patrons into this small restaurant space, which sits near the corner of North Street and North Winooski Avenue.

Maudite Poutine started in late 2016 as a food cart on Church Street. Late last year, owners and siblings Joe, Leah, and Michael Collier wanted something more brick-and-mortar while keeping their mobile operations. But, they weren’t ready to commit to a full restaurant.

“We honestly just wanted to see what it would be like to have a little poutinerie,” Leah Collier said. “But even more than three days at this point felt just overwhelming in terms of trying to find staffing and living our lives. We're already overwhelmed by all the work, which is wonderful.”

Four boxes of poutine - fries covered in gravy and cheese curds with various toppings on top.
Leah Collier
Maudite Poutine started in 2016 as a food cart on Church Street. Since then, siblings Michael, Leah, and Joe Collier have served poutine (fries covered in gravy and cheese curds with a wide array of toppings) all around the state.

So, in late 2021 after the closure of Drifters left a vacant restaurant space in the Old North End, the Colliers decided to move in. And they opened it up to share with others. Community kitchens are shared spaces that local caterers, chefs, cooks, and bakers can rent to prepare food.

They promote diversity through a collective support system. The owners share costs and are active participants in the operations. Leah says while the Tiny Community Kitchen has given them the flexibility to expand, it’s not without its challenges.

“Logistically, it's very challenging to find, especially because the space is so small, it is pretty challenging to find space for everyone. And to plan that appropriately. So there's definitely advantages and disadvantages,” she said.

More from Brave Little State: What happened to all the restaurant workers?

But in the wake of COVID, many restaurants are rethinking what it means to work in this business. And cooking in a well-equipped space at a low cost is huge for local chefs, like Mediha Goretic — another user of the Tiny Community Kitchen.

“I enjoyed talking to people and sharing my culture and my identity,” she said. “People ask lots of questions. That's a good part. That's the fun part. And I think mutual understanding brings more understanding in general.”

Goretic was born and raised in Bosnia. She learned about the space from the state’s economic development office. On Wednesdays, Goretic sells pastries like Burek, a pastry with beef and onion, or Baklava, a sweet pastry with ground walnuts.

“I got this amazing opportunity, and I was so excited about it," she said. "So I have fully equipped kitchen and all for myself. So it was like a dream come true."

A woman wearing a chef's top hat while holding baked goods.
Leah Collier
Mediha Goretic has lived in Vermont for over 20 years, and loves sharing her culture with her community.

Kitchen users pay a flat fee either by the hour or the day. The schedule is updated regularly on the kitchen's Instagram, and a dry-erase calendar that faces outside.

For Weslie Khoo and José Ureña, the Tiny Community Kitchen was a way to get their names and food out in the area without putting down a lot of cash for a fully-equipped kitchen.

They run the pop-up Casa Birria. Casa means house in Spanish, and birria is a traditional Mexican stew made with goat or beef. It's served with tortillas, onion, cilantro and lime.

“It's very kind of sentimental to me, because I grew up eating the dish at someone's house on Sunday, evenings after church, we would go to their house, [and] they would be making this food be sharing it with family and friends,” Ureña said.

He is from Mexico while his business partner, Khoo, is from Singapore. Alongside Ureña’s wife, they use the community kitchen for prep and sell birria among other foods at events and markets around Burlington.

“I was in California, and then there were a lot of like, incubator kitchens, where this concept where I mean, this concept is not new at all,” Khoo said. “It's like people rent a kitchen, and then they do some part of it. So we were wondering if we could find something similar here.”

Between food shelves and food hubs, there are community kitchens all around the state supporting local food businesses. While some have closed due to the hardships of the pandemic, some kitchens like Maverick's Commercial Kitchen in Essex and the Castleton Community Center’s Kitchen are still open to the public.

A white table with fried chicken, gumbo, shrimp and grits, cornbread, mac and cheese, greens, yams and hot sauce and a drink
Marcus Stittum
Marcus Stittum, is a french trained personal Chef. The St. Louis native cooks up Southern Classics every Sunday and Monday.

Marcus Stittum is at the Tiny Community Kitchen on Sundays and Mondays. Every week, the St. Louis native cooks up fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread, and more. His restaurant — Barbara Jean's Southern Kitchen — is named after his late grandmother.

“My business is Southern food, or soul food as it's known in the Black community," Stittum said. "I bring love, I bring a piece of history. Something different Vermont did not have, or has attempted but it's failed."

He says the Sunday and Monday schedule fills a gap. Many local restaurants in the area are closed at the beginning of the week. Stittum loves the impact he has on the community here. Bringing authentic slices of home.

“There are not a lot of Black people in Vermont. And the amount of Black people that I've seen at the restaurant is incredible,” he said. “It's like, you know, you pop up soul food, and you just see people that look like you, which is incredible.”

He’s grateful to the Tiny Community Kitchen for that opportunity. Stittum says it's hard work, but when he sees that first customer come in every day, it just lights a fire in him.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message.

Marlon Hyde was Vermont Public’s first news fellow, from 2021 to 2023.
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