Food incubators take root in Baltimore

The Baltimore Sun by Sarah Meehan
When Nacole and Robert Lee were searching for a brick-and-mortar shop for their 4-year-old fruit arrangement business, unforeseen costs piled up quickly. Licensing, pest control, garbage removal — the hidden expenses put an affordable retail space out of reach.
At Frucasion Fruit Boutique’s new home in B-More Kitchen in Homeland, Nacole Lee has space to carve watermelons for intricate fruit displays without worrying about those extra costs.
Frucasion is one of the first small-scale food businesses to move into the communal work space and incubator, which opened earlier this month among a flurry of similar operations emerging to enlarge the pipeline for Baltimore’s food industry. Baltimore Food Hub, which broke ground on its five-building campus Tuesday in East Baltimore, will house a commercial kitchen, office space and manufacturing facilities for local food makers. And R. House food hall will provide space for chefs and food producers to test out new concepts when it opens this fall in Remington.
Nationwide, the number of kitchen incubators increased by more than half — to more than 200 — between 2013 and 2016, according to research by Econsult Solutions, Urbane Development and American Communities Trust, the community development nonprofit leading the renovation of the Baltimore Food Hub site. The proliferation of low-cost spaces for food startups in Baltimore will support the city’s economic health overall because the growing food industry provides a swath of jobs that don’t require college degrees, said China Boak Terrell, CEO of American Communities Trust.

“That’s what makes the food cluster so powerful for job creation, and that’s why we think it’s really important to be able to connect this campus to the food economy,” Terrell said.
Food incubators have seen success in other cities. Union Kitchen in Washington, D.C., has worked with about 200 small businesses since it opened in December 2012. Cullen Gilchrist, one of the incubator’s founders, estimates that less than 10 percent of those businesses have failed, while about 40 percent of all new businesses that opened in 2012 have failed since then, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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