Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hatching New Plans and Players

     There's no arguing with the fact that the local food scene is lively, dynamic and exciting. From new restaurants to urban farms, increased numbers of  CSA's  (community supported agriculture) and the spread of farmers market in neighborhoods all around the city- the availability of good fresh, sustainably produced food grown, raised and made in this region is on the rise. And things are about to get even more interesting thanks to the  Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen. It's meant to be a home base and blast off place for entrepreneurial spirits with a dream to stir up something delicious and sellable.

   Meant to be both a business incubator and a shared workspace, the kitchen, which officially opened its doors in April, provides fully licensed commercial space and equipment for rent plus support services to established food product producers and startups. It's 3,600 square feet of storage, prep and cooking facilities: all the standard stuff-stoves, sinks, stainless steel tables and counters,  plus rolling racks, two walk-in coolers and a freezer, convection oven, 25-gallon steam kettle, a floor mixer, tools, pots and pans of every size and description. It could function as a commissary for food truck operators and caterers, serve chefs and growers who want to preserve seasonal fruits and vegetables, and be a production facility for all kinds of edibles.

  Once would-be tenants have applied and been approved, they can lease space, by the hour on a regular or as needed basis. Dry, cold, and frozen shelf space is also for rent. There's even a small meeting and conference room. Currently they're operating only 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  but soon hope to be be running 24/7.

 The building, located at 28th Street and Euclid Avenue, is owned by J&M Real Estate Advisors. Carolyn Priemer, who handles marketing and administration for the firm  is the driving force behind the project along with her father, company President Gordon Priemer.  They've partnered with Hospitality Sales and Marketing and the Economic and Community Development Institute, both tenants there, to provide the kind of help essential for success, business plan development, microloans, and mentorship. The first 9-week Business Incubator Program for 10 selected entrepreneurs begins Monday, July 8. Applications are due by June 3.

  Carolyn Priemer, brimming with energy and ideas, gave me a guided tour earlier this month, explaining that the kitchen was previously used by Cleveland State University's catering operation. When they moved out she saw an opportunity. "I knew other cities were doing this with great success," she says,  "This was a moment when everything came together. We had the right place, the right people, and I knew it was the right time. There's a synergy here."

 We walk as she talks. I meet Patrick Candor, he's the facility manager and a caterer, and a woman mixing up a batch of vegan ginger cookies for the Cleveland Baking Company, a wholesale operation that is providing employment and second chances to people just out of prison. A few minutes later I'm chatting with founder and CEO James Levin. That's another thing about this place. It will foster all kinds of networking, cross-pollination and collaboration, says Priemer.  A hands-on leader, she proudly points to a big used fridge they recently purchased and says, "I spent Saturday scrubbing it from top to bottom."  In another room, she points to the spot where they plan to put a machine for filling jars and bottles.

  This isn't for everybody with a recipe. Applicants need to have more than just an idea to find out what's required, and get more information about the kitchen, Carolyn suggests interested people call her and set up a time to come in for a tour and a talk: 216-314-7196.

  This is a for profit venture with great promise and possibility. Something like this has long been needed here. I applaud all the participants for their vision and their efforts. And I'm so looking forward to tasting and writing about the good things that come from it.

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