Customers of The Real Food Academy Ebony Johnson and her daughter Shauna exit the building after a cooking class on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, in Miami, Fla. Though classes were completely empty for about three months, they have begun to teach kids how to create delicious plates again, albeit with fewer children in the classes than before. (J24/Leidy Iglesias)
Customer Jake Miller sits down to wait for his daughter to come out of a class on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, in Miami, Fla. The establishment has taken extra sanitary precautions since reopening classes, like wearing face masks and gloves, as well as sanitizing surfaces constantly. (J24/Leidy Iglesias)
Employee Mauricio Garcia gives food to a customer on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Miami, Fla. The new cafe has allowed The Real Food Academy to continue to serve the community and earn money even when cooking classes were not open. (J24/ Leidy Iglesias)
Employee Mauricio Garcia enjoys a meal during his break on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Miami, Fla. Before working at The Real Food Academy, Garcia lived in Los Angeles, Calif., and worked as an actor in commercials. (J24/Leidy Iglesias)
Instructor Isa Martinez answers questions in a cooking class on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, in Miami, Fla. Each class is about an hour long and teaches students to make a dish they would normally eat, but with healthier ingredients. (J24/Leidy Iglesias)
Class instructor Isa Martinez finishes creating the snack of the day on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, in Miami, Fla. This “Quinoa Cake” is made up of pineapple slices, spinach, quinoa, and bean sprouts with a berry smoothie drizzled on top. (J24/Leidy Iglesias)
Instructor Frank Rodriguez teaches a cooking class over Zoom on Friday Oct. 2, 2020, in Miami, Fla. The Real Food Academy usually posts live videos on YouTube for customers to watch at home, but this is the first class where Rodriguez will be able to see his students as he cooks. (J24/Leidy Iglesias)
Owner Maria Cummins slices fresh salmon on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Miami, Fla. The Real Food Academy offers a wide range of food to order from their cafe including wraps, salads, burgers, bowls and empanadas. (J24/Leidy Iglesias)
Cook Santiago Navarro flips peppers in a pan on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Miami, Fla. Navarro has worked at the academy for two years now. (J24/Leidy Iglesias)
A giant octopus graces the walls of the cafe’s new patio in Miami, Fla., on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. Many of the buildings in Miami’s Design District have been colorfully painted and give the academy an inviting atmosphere for customers. (J24/Leidy Iglesias)
The official van for The Real Food Academy sits outside the building waiting to transport food on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, in Miami, Fla. The van is used for cooking classes, summer camps, and birthday parties at other locations. (J24/Leidy Iglesias)
Owner Maria Cummins sits in her establishment with a smile on her face on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Miami, Fla. Though COVID-19 has halted her business’s progress, she is ready to come back stronger than ever. (J24/Leidy Iglesias)
At an establishment where group gatherings are at the center, The Real Food Academy has had to reinvent itself in order to survive and adapt to the restrictions of COVID-19.
Formerly known as Cooking With Kids Miami, The Real Food Academy is a small business in Miami that offers cooking classes to adults and kids alike. It all started in 2008 when owner Maria Cummins offered to teach a cooking class for an after-school program at Montessori School. She said it was “an overnight success” and opened her first establishment in 2010. She moved to her current location in 2017, and business has been growing ever since.
Cummins said, “We had huge birthday parties and team building events every single day. Then, from one day to the next, everything went down to completely zero.” This was the effect of COVID-19 for many small businesses throughout Miami, and Cummins realized she could no longer rely on in-person cooking classes to support her establishment, she said.
Turning to seek the aid of technology, Cummins began filming her employees and posting lesson videos on YouTube for customers to watch at home. She is now venturing into Zoom and recently held the academy’s first lesson in which her chefs can see the students on the other screen. The academy has been getting many requests for virtual lessons from places like Wells Fargo and Miami Dade College, said Cummins.
Moreover, Cummins had started working on adding a small cafe to her business early this year. The cafe was barely operational however, said Cummins, and with physical cooking classes out of the picture, the cafe became the center of attention.
“It was the only thing we could do. We put all our energy there and did everything we could with the limitations,” said Cummins. Though COVID-19 impacted the academy negatively, Cummins said the focus on the cafe was a major positive.
Due to the restrictions on indoor dining in Miami, she contacted as many delivery companies as she could, including Uber Eats, DoorDash and Grubhub, and made the meals that she taught to classes available for anyone to order.
Cummins then decided to open dining outdoors, and The Real Food Academy Cafe’s patio was born. In front of the beautiful ocean-themed art surrounding her building, she bought tables and flowery plants and transformed the area into a place for people to stop by and enjoy a meal.
“More people know us now through the cafe,” said Cummins.
Though this summer was nothing compared to the 60-70 kids that would normally come to the academy weekly, things have been starting to pick up again, she said.
Along with the growth of the cafe, in-person classes are resuming with the proper precautions. Students are placed six feet apart and are given temperature checks. Everyone who enters is required to wear a mask and surfaces are sanitized before, during, and after each class.
Cummins said she is happy to be able to teach kids about healthy eating again.
She started her business back in 2010 only with the goal to teach kids to cook, but after researching what was really in many foods people eat, Cummins said she wanted to take a healthier approach, which was when she changed her business name.
“We wanted to show people what is processed food and what is real food, and that’s what it’s all about.”