We tend to associate entrepreneurship with tech startups, but entrepreneurship is so much broader than that. Your local barber (if he owns the business) is an entrepreneur. And so is the lady who just opened that great little Cuban restaurant around the block. Speaking of restaurants, first-time food entrepreneurs can benefit from incubator environments in the same way that tech entrepreneurs do. They, too, need mentorship and can gain from being surrounded by other food entrepreneurs.
Within the last year and a half, two culinary institutions have emerged – Foodworks in Brooklyn and Jamaica FEASTS in Queens. Unlike the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan or the Culinary Institute of America, which has a campus in upstate New York, Foodworks and Jamaica FEASTS are not cooking schools. Instead, they are designed to help culinary professionals launch businesses.
With a grant from the New York Economic Development Corporation in 2016, the Jamaica (Queens) Food Entrepreneurship and Services Training Seminar (FEASTS) launched its first cohort in January of this year.
“We’re not teaching people how to cook, we’re showing people how to launch businesses,” said Morgan Earle, the Jamaica FEASTS Manager, who has 15 years of experience in the food retail business.
The program, which operates out of the Queens Public Library, is free and open to anyone living in New York City. But it’s also quite competitive. For the first cohort (a series of 12 weekend classes), out of 130 applications received, only 15 students were accepted. In addition to the 12 Sunday classes, each student also has weekly meetings with Earle and Michael Maldonado, an entrepreneurship counselor.
“Morgan and Michael were integral in helping me narrow my focus and start off with a small viable product,” said Tress Walker, one of the students from Jamaica FEASTS’s first cohort.
Tress is the founder of MumsKitchens NYC, which serves West Indian fresh baked goods. Her specialty is Nutty Brownie Bites (topped with Ferrero Rocher chocolate) and she sells her food at pop-up shops and markets throughout Queens. In addition to focusing her concept, Earle and Maldonado also helped Walker get the proper license for her home kitchen. Jamaica FEASTS has also helped two students who are in process of signing leases for retail spaces in Jamaica, Queens. The third cohort begins on August 20th.
Foodworks is a rental commercial kitchen that opened its doors in February 2016 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. In addition to private funding, it is also the recipient of funding from the New York Economic Development Corporation. It’s an impressive 10,000-square foot space (in former Pfizer pharmaceutical plant) that helps food businesses get started, according to Managing Director Edie Feinstein. The kitchen includes everything from specialty baking ovens to industrial food processors.
The Foodworks model is nearly identical to a coworking space, with tiered membership prices according the amount of time you plan to spend at the facility and the amount of space you will need – for your food. For instance, a $300/month membership entitles you to 10 hours a month in the shared kitchen and one Dry Storage Shelf. Membership plans go up to $2,000/month, and include cold storage and freezer storage space. (Membership plans can be customized.) According to Feinstein, some members are restaurants that need extra food storage space.
In addition to storage space, Foodworks has a mentorship program for members that provides access to over 50 mentors, including experts in packaging and design, accounting, public relations and social media. Foodworks already has some exciting success stories, like Alexander Harik’s “Zesty Z” Mediterranean Za’atar spread.
Realizing that one of Harik’s favorite foods could only be found in his mom’s Lebanese kitchen, he rented space at Foodworks to experiment making his family’s olive oil-based spread in large quantities. Not only did Foodworks’s kitchen provide him with the resources to create his product, they also presented his unique spread at a booth Foodworks rented at the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center. And it was there where Harik met a distributor that now distributes his bottled spreads throughout the country.
Another Foodworks member came in with an idea and has since launched Keepers Coffee Soda, a mixture of fresh coffee and citrus juice that is now on shelves at local Whole Foods. In less than two years, Foodworks and Jamaica FEASTS have had a meaningful positive impact on food entrepreneurs in New York City. And the palettes of New Yorkers have been beneficiaries as well.