There’s nothing better than enjoying delicious food crafted by a local producer. You can taste the love and experience the care that has gone into it in every bite. And you know that the money is staying in your community.
At The Food Corridor, our mission is to enable efficiency, growth, and innovation in local food. That is why the more community kitchens we can support through our resources and technology, the more we are living out our mission to support local producers.
What better way to celebrate local community-focused businesses than to look at the incubator programs run out of shared kitchens across the country that are on the frontlines giving small businesses a fighting chance to compete?
These forward-thinking programs offer training, guidance, support, and funding, as well as access to the kitchen space and equipment needed to take a food business to the next level. And these kitchens are oftentimes the center of the local food economy, where relationships are made and partnerships are forged.
Now that’s something we can raise an artisanally made glass of kombucha to!
7 Incubator Programs Driving the Shared Kitchen Industry
Last year, our report on kitchen incubators and shared kitchen facilities in the US revealed a growing industry embracing innovation and supporting a diverse community of entrepreneurs.
A year later a lot has changed, but the shared kitchen incubator sector soldiers on and continues to adapt and grow. Providing support with amazing programs that are helping thousands of businesses adapt, survive, and even thrive through these unique and challenging times.
To celebrate this triumph over adversity, we wanted to showcase some of the industry’s leading incubators – not only to highlight the great work they’re doing but also to inspire the next generation of food industry entrepreneurs and investors to go after their dreams.
To show that even when things seem as though they couldn’t be tougher, where there is energy and drive to do something meaningful, you will always find examples of success.
Opened in 2013, Ohio’s Cleveland Central Kitchen is a hub for creators and innovators in the local food scene. To date, over 500 businesses have moved through the kitchen’s Incubator program with more than 400 products launched.
The program works on three levels depending on what stage your business is at:
- For those dipping their toe in and wanting to learn, the Craft Food Classroom offers courses and real-world insights from experienced industry professionals into what it takes to make it.
- For those ready to launch, the Incubator includes access to the shared kitchen, training, and funding to help you launch your product and take it to market.
- For businesses with an established product that are looking to scale, the Food Hub gives you everything you need to take it to the next level. You are set up with your own specialized production space, access to co-packing, and all the storage and logistics infrastructure you need to grow and thrive.
For more information about how to apply for one of the programs, visit the Cleveland Central Kitchen website.
Live Local Collective
In support of local farmers and producers who have been affected by lockdowns and consumer fear, Cleveland Central Kitchen relaunched its Love Local Collective program in March 2021.
This online farmers market connects local producers directly with the public, allowing them to safely browse and shop for locally-grown fruit and veggies and locally produced products like cheeses, deli meats, and preserves for delivery.
The program includes subscription models for recurring bundles to give shoppers maximum convenience and flexibility.
CommonWealth Kitchen is home to over 50 caterers, wholesalers, food truckers, and local producers. With the goal of supporting start-ups and scaling food businesses of all kinds, the shared kitchen space in Dorchester, near Boston, has a long list of successful alumni.
One such graduate is Batch Ice Cream, a producer of artisan frozen goodies handmade using natural ingredients. Husband and wife team Dave and Deb LeRiche eschew the gums and stabilizers used in mass-produced ice cream in favor of fresh ingredients blended a whole lotta local love.
Applications are reviewed twice a year on April 1st and October 1st and the team lists a strong entrepreneurial spirit and an existing customer base or clear target market, among other desirable qualities in applicants.
If this sounds like your kind of kitchen, fill out the application form online.
Restaurant Resiliency Initiative
CommonWealth Kitchen launched a new four-month program in March 2021, the Restaurant Resiliency Initiative, to offer coaching and support to food businesses trying to recover post-pandemic. The program is the latest development in the kitchen’s efforts to help local food businesses, after the success of its CommonTable initiative, which helped serve 150,000 meals to people in need last year.
The program will include a mix of group coaching and one-to-one help with the financial side of business management, with webinars on everything from social media marketing, to business accounting, to staffing. All aimed at helping food businesses get back on their feet and move forward in a positive direction.
New York’s Hot Bread Kitchen is on a mission to promote economic stability and social mobility in the food industry. The organization aims to promote the careers of women and minorities by helping them gain skills and experience in the industry.
Hot Bread Kitchen runs two training programs:
- Food Career Program – Provides a training programt that will prepare you to work as a baker, prep cook, cashier, or pastry assistant, for around 15-30 hours a week for six weeks at an average starting wage of $15 an hour. Applications are open now for the new program starting in June 2021.
- Facility Management Program – A new 4-month training program to prepare you for a job in facilities management. With a time commitment of between 15 and 20 hours per week, you will gain experience as a maintenance or janitorial worker, on concierge or customer service, or perhaps as an office assistant, purchasing coordinator, or facilities assistant, at a starting wage of over $16 an hour.
Hot Bread Kitchen’s Career Programs page has a ton more information and links to apply for one of the programs.
Chefs Collective Refetorrio with Massimo Bottura’s Food For Soul
Hot Bread Kitchen is making headlines for its partnership with superstar chef Massimo Bottura’s Food For Soul initiative to offer free meals to needy people in Harlem. The project is one of many refetorrios the Italian chef has set up in response to the hardship of the last year – food waste fighting soup kitchens set up in partnership with local non-profits.
The inspirational project is run through Hot Bread Kitchen’s Chefs Collective and brings together a number of local chefs and producers to offer 600 free meals each week.
The Hatchery is a huge non-profit incubator in Chicago helping food and beverage entrepreneurs at all stages in the city build successful businesses. The sprawling facility houses 56 private kitchens, a large modern shared kitchen, a co-working and meeting space, and a business center with a dedicated support team.
The Hatchery runs two incubator programs:
- The six-month Sprouts program provides the resources and guidance to quickly launch a food business. It helps early-stage entrepreneurs take their plans for food trucks, consumer packaged goods start-ups, and foodservice brands and hone them into successful offerings. Applications are open on a rolling basis and you can apply online.
- For businesses that have already launched, the Bloom program offers access to business support and The Hatchery’s physical resources to move up to the next level. These businesses must have been operating for at least 12 months and have revenue over $10,000 to qualify. Find out more here.
The Hatchery operates at the leading edge of the food retail industry. The insights and experience offered are invaluable for any business that needs a guiding hand, as demonstrated by this exploration of post-pandemic retail opportunities by The Hatchery’s CEO Natalie Shmulik.
La Cocina, or “The Kitchen”, focuses on helping immigrant women and those in low-income communities in San Francisco find their feet and showcase their culinary talents. The idea came out of the illegal home restaurants common in the area. With a safe, legal space to work their magic, these innovative cooks can thrive and grow their businesses safely and sustainably without fear of being prosecuted.
The program has been a phenomenal success, helping dozens of low-income chefs and entrepreneurs start their own restaurants and even releasing its own cookbook to showcase the work of its graduates.
Support comes through providing affordable commercial kitchen space in La Cocina’s shared kitchen, providing technical assistance, and access to market opportunities using a four-step method:
- Step One: Application and Enrollment – Applicants have three opportunities per year to submit a completed application and business plan.
- Step Two: Pre-incubation – A six-month program to establish the foundations of the business in the areas of product development, marketing, finance, and operations.
- Step Three: Incubator – Successful participants are given access to the shared kitchen space to launch and develop their business, with continued technical support and training from the team.
- Step Four: Graduation and Alumni – Once businesses reach certain benchmarks, they move into their own premises to grow further, with access to support from La Cocina’s alumni community.
For all the details on how and when you can apply for the program, click here.
La Cocina’s Municipal Marketplace
La Cocina’s latest innovation is a multi-cultural food hall in the downtown Tenderloin neighborhood that celebrates the diverse chefs and cuisines of San Francisco’s food community. The massive foodie haven will showcase at least six graduates of the incubator program and will include hard-fo-find delicacies like jerk chicken tacos and Senegalese peanut stew, to name just a couple.
As well as showcasing the latest and greatest chefs to emerge on the scene, the project aims to provide jobs and economic opportunities to the local residents of the area. Sounds like a win-win for the locals and for anyone looking for a good feed in Downtown San Fran.
The apt term SPICE stands for Supporting the Pursuit of Innovative Culinary Entrepreneurs.
Funded by Salt Lake City’s International Rescue Committee, Spice Kitchen’s goal is to support refugees and disadvantaged communities in developing successful food businesses, preserving their culinary traditions, and exposing their talents to a wider audience within the Salt Lake City food scene.
Spice Kitchen uses a four-stage model inspired by La Cocina’s program:
- Month 1: Application and Enrollment – scour the local community for viable candidates and give them an orientation session to assess whether they are appropriate for the program.
- 6-8 months: Pre-incubation – Chosen participants receive technical guidance to start a business plan to cover product development, marketing, finances, and operations.
- 8 months – 4 years: Incubation – Successful participants are given access to the shared kitchen space to launch and develop their business, as well as access to capital and resources to improve sales and scale their business.
- 4 years+: Graduation – Once businesses reach certain benchmarks, they move out of the kitchen while remaining part of the alumni community with access to support and the Spice Kitchen community.
For more details about the program and how to apply, visit the Spice Kitchen website.
Spice Kitchen developed a boxed meal service to support its refugee and immigrant chefs while providing a much-needed meal delivery service to local residents. Started in 2017, but hampered by Covid-19 restrictions, the service is now back up and running again.
The weekly menu allows locals to taste a variety of cuisines from the diverse stable of cooks that use the kitchen. Check out the Spice-to-Go page for the latest offering and to place your order.
After finding success with The Blind Dog Cafe and manufacturing its spin-off product, The Blind Dog cookie, in a shared space with other small producers in DC, the founders of Union Kitchen realized there was a need for shared kitchen space and support for food businesses trying to make it in the city.
Since opening Union Kitchen in 2012, the team has worked with 650 food businesses and 100 startups have passed through its Accelerator program. With a focus on helping Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) start-ups, the incubator has four stages that drive the products through their pipeline: from the shared production kitchen through the distribution center, and out to their retail stores.
Phase 1: Launch – A 16-week program to get your product shelf-ready, including investment in kitchen membership and coaching as well as training and guidance on developing a concept, technical execution, and finally launching the product.
Phase 2: Product Market Fit – A six-month coaching program where you’ll learn what your customers want and how to deliver it at scale consistently.
Phase 3: Growth – Building out your business based on the market fit, with advice and support in manufacturing, facility build-out, and team management as well as resources such as training, playbooks, and checklists.
Phase 4: Scale – Take your business to the national level, with assistance on how to outsell the category leader, make branding choices, raise serious money, and plan an exit.
Union Kitchen Retail Stores
Union Kitchen has a number of physical customer-facing stores that provide a welcome respite from big-name brands. The five stores dotted around town, including the latest offering that opened in Ballston last year, offer fresh coffee, sandwiches, snacks, and groceries including a showcase of products from the graduates of the incubator program.
Give your food business a kickstart
These incredible initiatives will hopefully spark inspiration in entrepreneurs looking to reach the next level as well as those still in the idea fermentation stage.
To find your nearest shared kitchen, business accelerator, or incubator program, knock on The Kitchen Door.
And if you’re looking for automation tools, management software, and useful resources to grow your own shared kitchen, take a step into The Food Corridor.