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D. Denay Davis
Culinary Consultant
Charlotte, North Carolina

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Kitchen Incubators helping Food Entrepreneurs

Let’s say you would like to make a career change and start a small catering business; where would you start, what do you do first?
Written Dec 13, 2010, read 1790 times since then.
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In 2009 The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and with Southern Foods in Greensboro, North Carolina hosted “Food Marketing in the Real World; a workshop for food entrepreneurs.  After driving for more than an hour attempting to locate Southern Foods and listening to the different foodies tell their stories, spilling out their hopes and dreams a question arose concerning the many perils experienced by free thinking foodies. What would help these budding food innovations take their products from kitchen to market? How could someone expand and reach the masses?

The solution is not difficult, however it may involve a bit of investigation and collaboration. Everyone is aware that the economy is stagnant and more and more consumers are being “right-sized, down-sized, and resourced out of jobs.” Fortunately, there are still creative souls who are taking it upon themselves to create jobs that are not only “out-the-box” but delicious. Food entrepreneurs are popping up everywhere, particularly since North Carolina allows home food processing of low risk products.

Let’s say you would like to make a career change and start a small catering business; where would you start, what do you do first? The main issue is locating a commercial kitchen since a home kitchen would be an issue due to health regulations requirements that do not allow food preparation from home-based kitchens. Many vendors will not rent or lease their kitchen to you for liability reasons so what is a new food processor to do? Locate an incubator.

In recent years incubator kitchens have popped up all over the United States, They are often regulated by the state/county Health Department or the state Department of Agriculture. Where these kitchens are located can be a bit tricky and food entrepreneurs should first check the local or state extension center, technical community colleges or incubator business centers that have culinary/food programs or commercial kitchens.

An incubator kitchen allows home food processors the opportunity to test marketed their products before going the brick and mortar route; and although the location of the incubator kitchen may not fit everyone’s needs it may be worth the drive because a food processor can make 30 to 40 cheesecakes in those large commercial ovens in an hour or two along with having tons of space for dry food storage and equipment, a shared office for the tenants with a computer and fax machine.

All kitchen tenants will need to be approved by a selection committee composed of members of the incubator center; and this membership should be made up of a lawyer, banker and the owners of the facility, unless this is a government owned and operated facility. The tenants will need to pay an amount that covers the expenses, upkeep and maintenance of the facility.

Potential tenants may be required to submit business, financial and marketing plans. “It doesn’t mean that their business will develop in the same exact way, but it gives them a road map of how to get from point A to point B. There are many other variables that will need to be address and the average tenant will have a limited time to participate, perhaps 24-30 months, providing tenants enough time to move their business from the incubator stage to a full fledge brick and mortar business.

This may sound a bit far fetched but for some restaurant owner on the verge of closing their doors for good, creating an incubator kitchen for home food processors may be just the thing to not only keep you in business but help someone else on the road to entrepreneurial success.

Learn more about the author, D. Denay Davis.

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