New Food Incubator to Set Up Shop in Morningside Heights.
With the growing number of farmers markets and shops that sell locally made goods, New York’s legion of budding chefs is spoilt for choice when it comes to outlets to share their goods. But for a growing company, it becomes difficult to operate out of a tiny apartment kitchen after a point. Enter the food incubator.
Designed to help entrepreneurs expand their operations, these incubators are communal areas with professional kitchen space and equipment that can be rented out for certain periods of time. New York City has its fair share of food incubators to help local chefs.
The likes of Hot Bread Kitchen, with its retail store in East Harlem; two-year-old Entrepreneur Space launched by the Queens Economic Development Corporation in Long Island City; the city’s only Organic Food Incubator, also in Long Island City; and Brooklyn’s recently launched test kitchen incubator at 3rd Ward all allow culinary talent across all the boroughs to flourish.
One of the latest entrants in the kitchen-for-hire market is the Food Incubator @ Union Theological Seminary in Morningside Heights, scheduled to open this fall. The kitchen will give Upper West Side and Harlem-based foodies and chefs a chance to work in restaurant-quality kitchens.
There’s still a lot of work to be done. Co-founder Bethany Vaughan shared the requirements of bringing the previously abandoned kitchen up to code. “Once we met with an inspector and identified the problem areas (mostly repairs and upgrades), we had to develop a plan to check off each piece to reach compliance,” she said, “We also had to figure out what equipment needed to be discarded and which pieces still have a useful life.”
The idea to create a program that supported the local entrepreneurial spirit while also helping educate the community on well-being and eating right came when Richard Madonna, VP of Finance and Operations at the Union Theological Seminary, met Richard Murphy, a former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Youth Services. Madonna had launched the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute and Incubator in New Haven and wanted to do something similar in New York. He soon saw an opening in the food sector and started developing the idea of an incubator.
Through two open house events, the team gauged the needs and requirements of the neighborhood’s potential users while working out pricing. Once the concept was introduced to the community, Madonna said the space had over a dozen people ready to rent shifts and for the annual membership. Initial funding came from an anonymous donor and the group hopes to eventually become self-sustaining. The introductory rates are between $20-$25/hour for four or six hour time slots, any time between 8 a.m. and midnight, any day of the week, with an annual membership fee of $250.
Apart from just renting out spaces, the Food Incubator will also be a center for learning. Madonna and Vaughan said there have been many requests for culinary training, teaching families how to cook and eat healthy, how to buy local produce and even programs to help former prisoners re-enter society. Columbia University’s upcoming Manhattanville campus will also bring more restaurants to the block and Madonna hopes to be the place where employees will come to train. The Incubator also offers its tenants the option to source ingredients from Wholeshare, a food co-op that works through an online platform to deliver products from local and regional producers.
With the September launch date approaching, the team is hard at work to get everything done in time, and with their go big or go home attitude, said Madonna, “…I’d like to see the Food Lab become the General Assembly of the Food Incubator space.”