Enterprise Center plans culinary incubator in W. Philly

Source: Philadelphia Business Journal
Date: August 16, 2010
Byline: Natalie Kostelni

The Enterprise Center is hopeful it will break ground this fall on a long-planned culinary incubator in which chefs who currently work out of their home kitchens, taste testing their secret chili or oatmeal cookie recipes, will have an official place to cook.

Those who might stir the pot at the Center for Culinary Enterprise range from chefs and bakers to caterers, food-cart vendors and hash slingers looking to move up. It aims to take some of the risk out of a fledgling startup. The goal of the center is to be an engine for creating food-related jobs and businesses.

The $5 million center would be housed in a vacant supermarket at 48th and Spruce streets in West Philadelphia bought two years ago by the Enterprise Center. The building totals 12,500 square feet and will be expanded by 1,500 square feet. It recently got $1.5 million in federal grants to put toward the center and is in the process of closing on other funding sources.

“If all goes well, we will break ground this fall,” said Greg Heller, managing director of economic growth and community revitalization at the organization. The project is expected to be finished in a year.

The idea of the Center for Culinary Enterprises was floated seven years ago and explored by the Enterprise Center. The culinary center would allow entrepreneurial foodies access to a fully equipped kitchen that would contain commercial-grade refrigerators, walk-in freezers, ovens for mass production, long steel-top preparation tables and the like.

It would be maintained as a licensed commercial kitchen and not only help advance the local food industry but also give those with a culinary talent an outlet to begin building a business.

The incubator will have several components that aim to hit multiple facets of creating, selling and working in an environment revolving around food and food production with hopes that it’s a recipe for success.
“Commercial kitchen space is a big part of the puzzle but not all of it,” he said. “We’re coming out of it with a different angle with a business acceleration model, and we will have those using the incubator interacting with those who have business development experience.”

The center will have three commercial kitchens. Tenants can rent kitchen and freezer space by the hour to produce items that can then be marketed for sale. As a commercially licensed kitchen it must meet state and other local health and safety ordinances — often an expensive, tedious hurdle for emerging chefs. A commercially licensed kitchen allows food prepared in the space to be sold to the public.

It will also have what is referred to as an “eKitchen multimedia learning center,” which is an interactive classroom and demonstration kitchen. Health and nutrition workshops as well as business development programs will be offered.

The facility will have a full-service restaurant called Little Louie’s BBQ. Neighborhood high school juniors and seniors will be trained in a range of restaurant and hospitality jobs while receiving classroom instruction and paid on-the-job experience. Items created in the culinary incubator will be sold in a 2,600-square-foot café, which has been pre-leased by the owner. The Walnut Hill Mini-Farm located eight blocks away, where youths can plant and grow food and sell it to local markets, the Restaurant School and other outlets that want fresh, locally grown produce, will be incorporated into the center.