A recurring dream among culinary-minded entrepreneurs is to take a favorite secret recipe or irresistible edible and build a business around it.
There are many cooks in that kitchen, and in Madison, Wisconsin, there’s a big kitchen now to accommodate some of them. It’s called FEED Kitchens (Food Enterprise & Economic Development Kitchens), an incubator that provides space for restaurateurs, food-cart vendors, caterers, farmers, and other entrepreneurs who need help bridging the divide between their dream and getting their products to market.
FEED Kitchens serves other purposes as well. It offers job skills training to the unemployed and serves as a community center. Its business model is unique, and not many lenders got it when it was pitched to bankers. CDFI Forward Community Investments (FCI) saw the potential right away, however, and pitched in with a $265,000 loan.
FCI, based in Madison, makes roughly $10 million in loans a year to nonprofit community-based organizations, and $1.5 million of those loans support projects related to healthy foods.
“FCI was recommended as a lender that would understand the nature of the project and work with a nonprofit to provide a loan if the business plan was sound,” said Ellen Barnard, coordinator of FEED Kitchens.
FEED, which opened in November, is a classic innovative approach to community and economic development. It includes multiple kitchen spaces, a produce-processing area, and a training kitchen. One practical economic effect is that it gives local entrepreneurs a way around the overwhelming start-up costs that have kept so many of them from realizing their ambition. The kitchen also creates jobs and helps expand sustainable agriculture in Wisconsin.
Local businesses and nonprofit groups that have benefitted already: Mandy’s Mood Foods, Auntie Pam’s Bakery, and the River Food Pantry/Madison-area Urban Ministry training program.
(Date of loan: 2014. Date of story publication: 2014)