West Philadelphia: The Plan of The Center for Culinary Enterprise

Source: Philadelphia Neighborhoods
Date: June 29, 2010
Byline: Kimberly Wood and Ashley Myers

As you walk south on 48thStreet, just passed Spruce, you’ll see a decrepit and vacant grocery store with a big sign in the window that says, “Coming Soon! Center for Culinary Enterprises.”

This dilapidated building is one of The Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation’s (TEC-CDC) next big projects. It’s called The Center for Culinary Enterprises and will be Philadelphia’s first food business incubator.

TEC-CDC plans on turning the approximately 13,000 square foot building into a fully functional business incubator with an eKitchen, a full-service restaurant, retail space for local food businesses and three shared-use commercial kitchens for rent to those in the community.

“This project is a perfect example of the new green economy,” said Greg Heller, a managing director at TEC-CDC. “A big part of sustainability has to do with secure local food systems and growing local businesses, keeping your dollars in general and especially your food dollars local in the community.”

he TEC-CDC believes there is a huge need for a place like this in West Philadelphia. In the Philadelphia region, the food industry alone generates over $15 billion annually. Jobs related to food or the food industry make up almost 10 percent of the city’s economy.

In West Philadelphia 31.5 percent of individuals are living below the poverty level. This is approximately five percent higher than the city’s over all percentage. The unemployment rate in the West Philadelphia neighborhood is 50.4 percent. TEC-CDC hopes that their Center for Culinary Enterprises will help change the face of food consumption in West Philadelphia while creating jobs.

The first component of the Center for Culinary Enterprises is an eKitchen Multimedia Learning Center. This will be a classroom, demonstration kitchen, public computer lab and an electronic resource library. This section of the center will cater mainly to entrepreneurs interested in starting their own food business. However, it is not limited to them.

The eKitchen is also important because it will provide members of the community with access to information on important health issues and nutrition advice.

The side of the building facing 48th Street will be turned into a full service restaurant called Little Louie’s BBQ. The restaurant will not only give jobs to youth in the neighborhood but also train them in restaurant and hospitality management.

TEC-CDC would like to have around 100 Philadelphia high school students participate yearly. The restaurant will also provide six new permanent jobs in the neighborhood. TEC-CDC has already hired a full time manager for the restaurant who will be part of the project for at least two years.

Members of the neighboring community associations want the business district surrounding the Culinary Enterprise Center to become a focal point that people are proud of based on how it looks and what it offers. Little Louie’s will provide neighbors with a new place to eat as well as a façade people will enjoy looking at.

Next to the barbecue will be two retail spaces. Both have been rented by the owner of Kaffa Crossing, a popular Ethiopian coffee shop on 45th and Chestnut.

The three shared-use commercial kitchens in the middle of the Center for Culinary Enterprises will not only educate food entrepreneurs but will also give space to those already in the food business who are looking to expand.

The idea comes from the problem that many food entrepreneurs face: they are running informal businesses out of their homes. The kitchens will be open 24 hours a days, 7 days a week with flexible rent to those interested.

Two of the kitchens will each be 340 square feet while the larger one, mainly for baking, will be 978 square feet. TEC-CDC decided to dedicate more space to the baking kitchen after surveying the community and learning that about 70% of their potential clients were creating baked goods.

The business district at 48th and Spruce streets rests on the border separating the Garden Court and Walnut Hill communities. Both the Garden Court Community Association and the Walnut Hill Community Association have been very active in revitalizing the area and getting the old supermarket turned into something beneficial to the area.

“It does not look like there have been any changes in the business district and physically there really haven’t been many,” said Mark Mendenhall of the Garden Court Community Association. “There is always this trickle of things going on around the business district that eventually we’re hoping will end up taking hold.”

TEC-CDC plans to break ground on the project this September, and hopes to be open for business within a year.

“From a community development standpoint, we think it’s really going to transform this corridor and the folks from the neighboring community associations seem to be pretty excited about it.,“ said Heller. To learn more about the potential clients of The Center for Culinary Enterprise, read this related article.