By Sara Cooke
They’ve been popping up around the country and now Fayetteville is preparing to welcome one of its own.
The Center for Economic Empowerment and Development (CEED) has plans to turn a 14,000 square foot warehouse on Russell Street into a 24-hour facility with six kitchens, to be rented with time-shared access to anyone in the community with an interest in cooking. Suzy Hrabovsky, CEED Chief Operating Officer, is confident that the “pop-up” restaurants, (the term denotes the variety of chefs and cuisines that will make their way through the space), will contribute a much-needed flavor and culture that comes along with locally owned, non-chain restaurants. Residents will be welcome to enjoy the assortment of chefs and bakers who will bring their own styles of cooking to the downtown kitchen.
Planners are calling the forthcoming culinary incubator the “Training Station,” because of its location across from the railroad tracks. It will offer four cooking kitchens. One of which will be gluten free and two baking kitchens, available for rent at $25 an hour and at a discounted rate for “anchor” or longer-term clients. The adjacent 250-person capacity event space to be used for parties and even business meetings, complete with audio-visual equipment, will be something unique to Fayetteville’s facility. While the community kitchen will be the first of its kind in Cumberland County, it will also be a great option for caterers working events in downtown locales even if those gatherings themselves are held elsewhere, caterers can take advantage of the space and equipment on-site, saving money they would typically spend on shipping either food or supplies. Retail space will also be open to two clients and the close proximity to the farmers market means that fresh food will always be readily available.
Hrabovsky said her organization found inspiration for the concept in Durham’s “The Cookery” (though the Training Station will be significantly larger) and DC’s “StartUp Kitchen” project, among other similar ventures. Hrabovsky and her team traveled across the state and further to check out these spaces and learn from their successes as well as their mistakes. While Hrabovsky is spearheading the project, CEED’s Executive Director, Sylvia Ray, isn’t shy about her support: “This is the most well thought-out project we’ve ever done,” she said, explaining that the city is supportive of the project and has committed to the construction that will extend Ray Avenue. “There are oodles of culinary incubators across the state,” Ray laughed. She is confident that like its predecessors, the upcoming facility will be self-supporting and self-sustaining.
CEED is a nonprofit in its 25th year, centrally located on Hay Street, with a track record of success, creating 100 to 200 local jobs every year and working to grow small businesses and encourage general economic growth. The kitchen incubator project is a part of the Women’s Business Center, a subgroup of CEED that was formed 14 years ago with a grant from the Small Business Administration. The group is enthusiastic, said Hrabovsky, about heading an enterprise that plans to create and sustain jobs, give opportunities for people to increase their incomes with additional work, potentially create new businesses and stimulate economic development in Cumberland County.
“We hear from people every day who want to become entrepreneurs in the food industry — and this is a way for that to happen.” Considering the majority of new food businesses fail because of lack of funding or business sense, the incubator kitchen will give hopeful chefs the opportunity to cook and sell their food with little expense, removing the upfront costs of starting a business, the long-term commitment and need for investors. Additionally, CEED plans on providing technical support, business assistance including service training and revenue workforce development training, marketing resources and the capability for packaging and product line expansion outside of Fayetteville. Kitchens will also require the licenses and certifications necessary to legally and safely produce and sell food products.
“There is a demand!” Ray exclaimed, pointing out that Cumberland County is home to over 100 home-based, licensed food businesses. This venture hopes to facilitate those businesses, from bakers to hopeful restaurateurs to caterers to food truckers, for whom the lot will provide the needed space to park and dump their water at night. “It will give so many talented people interested in the food industry the training and the experience that can open all sorts of doors for them. We want to create and sustain jobs.”
Some of those up and coming professional cooks will be graduates of Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC), whose Culinary Arts program produces hordes of talented chefs who need just such a kick-start to set off their careers. The school is collaborating with CEED on the entire project and will take advantage of the kitchen space for some of their classes. In another partnership with a local school, Fayetteville State University’s Business school helped to design the incubator’s business plan as a part of a competition between all UNC Business programs.
CEED’s timeline sets construction to begin July 2014, and plans for the incubator to open its doors in the spring of 2015. Though they’re still in the fundraising stage, the space itself is accounted and paid for. Fayetteville residents Mary Ann and W.A. Bissett and Lynn and Michael Green donated the building, thereby tremendously cutting down on the venture’s overall costs.
Moving forward over the next few months, CEED will continue seeking the remaining $2.5 million needed, hoping for about $600,000 in private donations and the rest in government grants.
“This will be built on our dream that when there is a need for something, we will find a way for it to happen,” said Ray, likening the Women’s Business Administration’s approach to the “teach a man to fish” philosophy, meaning they help others help themselves. “We’re in a different era of looking at food, and we hope to encourage people to eat, cook and farm locally and healthily. All this is is a community-driven way to bring people together, create jobs and to cook on a budget.”