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July 2019: Designing Bini's Kitchen


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DBA_Workshop built the custom walnut service counter. Image: Mariko Reed

DBA designs the first brick-and-mortar of an acclaimed, local Nepalese culinary startup.

 

By Chelsea Johnson, AIA, LEED AP, and Julie de Jesus, AIA, LEED AP, IIDA 

July 2019

DBA has a long history of providing pro bono services—typically reduced- or zero-fee services for non-profit clients who may not otherwise have access to a design professional. Each year DBA pledges a minimum of 1% of our billable hours to pro bono service, inspired by Public Architecture’s 1+ program. In reality, we typically spend about 3% of our yearly working hours on pro bono projects under our DBA_Lab, and this year was no different.

One pro bono project we recently completed is the new Bini’s Kitchen, a local San Francisco restaurant serving "Nepalese cuisine for the soul," owned by Binita Pradhan, which opened earlier this year. Bini’s Kitchen is a business that came out of the La Cocina kitchen incubator program, a non-profit program that supports food entrepreneurs, primarily women from communities of color and immigrant communities, develop their businesses.

Owner and chef, Binita Pradhan. Image: Mariko Reed

We first became involved with Bini’s Kitchen six years ago, in 2013. At that time we were working on a San Francisco housing development called 855 Brannan, where we advocated for the inclusion of a shared La Cocina kitchen concept in an early phase of the project as part of a community building effort. This is when we met Binita Pradhan—or Bini—who was involved in all the early discussions as the idea was developed.

When the development changed owners, we convinced the new client to keep the La Cocina retail presence in the new program. The available space at 855 Brannan ultimately proved unsuitable for Bini’s Kitchen, but this strategy resulted in the developer-sponsored build-out of a restaurant for a  different La Cocina graduate, El Pipila

We wanted to continue our relationship with Bini and her vision, however, so in 2017 when Bini and La Cocina found a new location in the new Bill Sorro Community affordable housing development nearby at 6th and Howard Streets, we offered to design the new space.

This is the first brick-and-mortar full restaurant space for Bini's Kitchen, in the corner of Bill Sorro Community affordable housing. Image: Mariko Reed

Getting going: Binita Pradhan with her Building Permit Application. Image: David Baker Architects

Excited to support Bini’s first brick-and-mortar restaurant—a big upgrade from her previous kiosk—we agreed to provide full pro bono architectural services for the 1,570-square-foot location, including space planning, permitting, interior design, custom casework and murals, and construction administration for the restaurant space and commercial kitchen.

Tile colors inspired by Himalayan spices and a carved walnut service counter reference Nepalese culture and crafts. Image: Mariko Reed

You can watch them make momos by hand through the street-side window overlooking the kitchen workspace. Image: Mariko Reed

Bini's path from leaving Nepal to opening a successful Nepalese restaurant in San Francisco was an elaborate and challenging journey. For her first professionally designed space, we worked closely with her in a collaborative experience, allowing Bini and her rich personal story to drive the design direction and palette.

In response to her desire that people feel as if they are coming into her home, we created an open front kitchen and a street-facing counter that showcases the making of Bini’s specialty momos—round, delicately folded Nepalese dumplings. Bini’s warmth and generosity are palpable and we wanted the space to feel that way for everyone that experiences it.

Early concept sketch of the Howard Street facade, by DBA Interiors Lead Julie de Jesus. Image: David Baker Architects

Binita Pradhan (center) with her sister and business partner, Sunita with DBA designer Akima Brackeen (right). Image: David Baker Architects

Bini’s personal story as an immigrant from Nepal is so tied to her approach to making and sharing food that it needed to be a prominent part of the final space. We worked together to find ways to pay tribute to her personal journey, Nepalese heritage, and her culinary and social passion. This design goal was achieved with custom display cases, references to Nepalese crafts, and colorful treatments inspired by her signature house-ground Himalayan spices.

Image: Mariko Reed

The Ancestry Mural: Reflections from the Artist

Local artist Jen Bloomer of Radici Studios created an “ancestry mural” for the space, speaking deeply with Bini to learn about her life and path to create a personalized mural that highlights scenes and symbols central to Bini’s powerful story. This mural frames a window at Bini’s desk in the kitchen, where her friendly face greets patrons, arriving employees, deliveries, and other visitors. Several panels are placed to be visible from the street, bringing art to the sidewalk and enticing people to come inside. Social connectedness and relationships are central to Bini’s values in her business, and this moment in the design is a celebration and facilitation of this. Here, Jen reflects on the experience:

Local artist Jen Bloomer of Radici Studios at work on the Ancestry Mural. Image: David Baker Architects

"Making the mural for Bini's Kitchen was a dream project. Her story of resilience and belief in food as a means to transmit love and create community was hugely inspiring to me. I was so honored to be chosen to create the two murals that tell her story and bring a sense of who she is to the space.

When I first met Bini I felt immediately at ease, she was kind and warm and open and offered a huge plate of delicious momos. She dove right in to her story and I sat riveted, barely moving for a good two hours while she shared her journey from cooking momos and grinding spices at joy-filled family parties in Katmandu to ending up in an abusive marriage with a young son and feeling so stuck and isolated in the U.S. I returned to meet with her a couple of times and visited the kitchen to see the spices being made and meet some of her staff. It was no small task to create two designs that would encapsulate the most potent life moments and give a feel of who she has become, but I immediately knew I wanted one of the murals to transmit the joyful commotion of her gatherings back home in Nepal.

I felt the bird's-eye view would help give a sense of moment and the interaction and intimacy. The other mural went somewhat chronologically from bottom right up and around to top right documenting important connections and moments. One thing that really struck me when talking to Bini was her deep gratitude and appreciation for others, and she really wanted me to highlight her parents, her sister, the La Cocina staff, and her own staff. That  is what I focused on. Bini's warmth builds a deep ring of beautiful people around her, and I am so grateful to have gotten to work in collaboration with everyone involved."

 

Bini's Ancestry Mural by local artist Jen Bloomer of Radici Studios. Image: Mariko Reed

Image: Mariko Reed

 

If you’d like to learn more about Bini and her success, check out these recent press features:

Eater San Francisco: Inside Bini’s Kitchen, a Hard-Won Home for Nepalese Momos and More


SF Chronicle: Bini’s Kitchen is now serving its highly touted Nepalese dumplings to SoMa’s lunch crowd


SF Weekly: Bini’s Kitchen: Mo’ Momos, No Problems

With this new brick-and-mortar location, Bini is a model graduate of the La Cocina incubator kitchen program. She is a success story for La Cocina and an inspiration for the aspiring cooks currently enrolled. In fact, Bini is one of several successful food entrepreneurs on the cover and in the pages of the new La Cocina cookbook, We Are La Cocina: Recipes in Pursuit of the American Dream.

Increased visibility and regard for community-minded immigrant entrepreneurs and small-business owners—especially women—and the organizations that support them is the proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats. All positive attention paid to Bini’s Kitchen helps make her business more robust and her American Dream more secure and inclusive. As Bini’s business grows, she paves the way for future program graduates to gain the support they need from La Cocina and the confidence they need from Bini’s success, and that of other graduates like her.

Please support Bini and stop by to try some of her delicious momos at Bini’s Kitchen at 6th and Howard in San Francisco!

Image: Mariko Reed

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Chelsea Johnson AIA, LEED AP is an Associate and Architect at DBA. You can contact Chelsea here
 

 

 

Julie de Jesus AIA, LEED AP, IIDA is an Associate and Interiors Lead at DBA. You can contact Julie here.

DBA_Workshop built the custom walnut service counter. Image: Mariko Reed

Owner and chef, Binita Pradhan. Image: Mariko Reed

This is the first brick-and-mortar full restaurant space for Bini's Kitchen, in the corner of Bill Sorro Community affordable housing. Image: Mariko Reed

Getting going: Binita Pradhan with her Building Permit Application. Image: David Baker Architects

Tile colors inspired by Himalayan spices and a carved walnut service counter reference Nepalese culture and crafts. Image: Mariko Reed

Early concept sketch of the Howard Street facade, by DBA Interiors Lead Julie de Jesus. Image: David Baker Architects

You can watch them make momos by hand through the street-side window overlooking the kitchen workspace. Image: Mariko Reed

Image: Mariko Reed

Binita Pradhan (center) with her sister and business partner, Sunita with DBA designer Akima Brackeen (right). Image: David Baker Architects

Local artist Jen Bloomer of Radici Studios at work on the Ancestry Mural. Image: David Baker Architects

Bini's Ancestry Mural by local artist Jen Bloomer of Radici Studios. Image: Mariko Reed

Image: Mariko Reed

Image: Mariko Reed