Culinary Incubators

The Lempert Report
September 11, 2014

For innovative food entrepreneurs, the benefits of a food incubator are obvious.

Phil: If you're an entrepreneur with an innovative food startup idea, launching your business can be tough - there's a big cost and a lot of risk. Which is why another innovative business idea is gaining traction - the culinary incubator. It’s a shared commercial kitchen, and while the concept is not brand new, with a booming demand for specialty and artisanal foods there are more and more food entrepreneurs who are looking for cost effective ways to get their business off the ground.  Chef's Kitchen, here in Los Angeles started in 2005, responding to a growing need for commercial kitchen space:

Sarah Cawley: Most people that started here were selling at the Farmers Market, just to test the market. You could make cookies at home and your friends and family would say they're fantastic. Take them to the Farmer's market, you're selling them for $3 it's a whole different ball game…so it gives them a chance if they haven't been in business before to understand how the kitchen works.

Phil: From the West Coast to the East Coast...Union Kitchen is a food incubator in Washington DC  - with about 50 members and a hefty wait list it's operating on a similar concept: 

Mike Darman:
0:28 - The idea behind it is to remove/combat the growth, competition to small.midsize food and beverage businesses here in the DC area.  People have been excited to see this come online and for the most part they’ve come to us.  And then on a daily basis members are coming in and preparing their foods.  They’re selling them at markets, caterers are going out and doing their jobs off site. Food trucks are prodcing here and then going out to the streets.  And then where we come in just beyond the licensed space is that we are assisting in the support of those endeavors.  So we have services layered on to help bring product to the market.  To help expand market penetration, to introduce members to new markets.

Phil: So what happens when the food entrepreneurs are ready to leave their incubator? Well, every foodie entrepreneur has a different goal: 

Sarah:Le Mervetty. the merengue people, have opened a store in Beverly hills. They started using  us a test kitchen just to get the hang of things and make sure everything’s right before they opened their store.  Their store opened a few months ago, but they still make their meringues here.  Severl people have used our kitchens as a test kitchen.  We have different people that use us for that purpose.  Some of them are successful and have grown and have moved.

Mike: Success looks different to different businesses. We have Capital Kambucha in here, they were one of the original members. They are taking up a fair chunk of kitchen which is great. Some have gone to open brick and mortars which is the goal for a lot of people.  And then you have some people who have been cooking Gramma and Grampa’s recipe of whatever for years and years and they just want to get it into as many peoples hands as possible.  They’re happy running a one or two person business and for them that’s success and so therefore to us that is to.

Phil  For innovative food entrepreneurs, the benefits of a food incubator are obvious. But how do these benefits trickle down to the consumer? 

Mike: The biggest impact that i think consumers see is the access to locally made products. we're able to get better pricing on goods, that allow are member to compete more int he market place. It allows people to really be able to act as they want and buy local without breaking their own bank.

Phil:  Everyone wants their own food brand and now, this makes it one step closer to reality.