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Food incubators come to Industry City

Brooklyn Daily
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The low-cost space available in Sunset Park’s Industry City is prompting a boom in a new business model — the time-share kitchen.

The sprawling industrial park on the site of the old Bush Terminal offers big, raw spaces to its tenants — sometimes more than they need — and as a result some culinary start-ups are becoming de facto incubators for other aspiring chefs.

“Being in this big industrial space, we felt like the only limitations were budget,” said Yonatan Israel, who owns Colson Patisserie.

He said there was too much room, but the space was too much of a deal to pass up, so he sublets to three other food makers.

For Israel, it was important to find the right people to share his space, but another Industry City kitchen a few blocks away is opening its doors to anybody with a spatula and a dream.

Hana Kitchen rents space to new food makers who do not have the capital to build their own kitchens, said Nicole Bermensolo, a partner in the venture who uses the facility to make gluten-free desserts for her company Kyotofu.

She and business partner Michael Hu shared the vast space — about the size of four tennis courts — and decided to open it to start-ups, she said.

It costs budding chefs less than $200 to rent kitchen space for one 8-hour shift at Hana Kitchen. Bermensolo said there are 20–30 tenants renting on a regular basis, including dessert makers, a Japanese salad-dressing company, a tamale producer, and a charcuterie company.

For tenants, the key draw is the equipment.

“As you know, it’s not easy to build even a small kitchen,” said Gabriel Arvizu, who splits his time between working for Kyotofu and making brownies with a Mexican twist for his own company, Arv Sweets.

Ella Nemcova moved her food buisness, Regal Vegan, to Hana Kitchen from the Entrepreneur Space in Long Island City three years ago, seeking an easier commute and some equipment that the Queens kitchen didn’t offer.

There are plenty of well-stocked commercial kitchens in Brooklyn, but Hana Kitchen also offers the mentorship and training that one would find at a start-up incubator, without the prohibitive build-out cost and application process, Bermensolo said.

Arvizu said Bermensolo and Hu helped him obtain the licensing and insurance necessary to operate as a busniness.

“They didn’t do it for me, but they put me in the right direction,” he said.

The team also advises tenants on packaging, labeling, and how to improve the look of their products, he said.

“There’s this under-served population of food-producers that needs guidance on logistics and packaging,” Bermensolo said.

That sort of advice can mean the difference between a passion for cooking being an expensive hobby or becoming a going concern, according to one newly former tenant.

“They have all kinds of ideas about how to market yourself,” said Julia El Bardai, whose company Elba & Ries prepares refrigerated meals. El Bardai said she and a business partner recently struck out on their own, and starting out at Hana Kitchen helped them hit the ground running.

While the mentorship is there, Nemcova said Hana Kitchen could still do a little more in the way of equipment training.

“How do you go from working on a four-burner stove to working with some of these huge machines?” she said.

Nemcova said a shift at the Entrepreneur Space included an assistant who helped prep food or work machines for a couple of hours, but that service came at an additional cost — a morning shift at Entrepreneur Space is $235, while the same shift at Hana Kitchen runs $180.

Hana Kitchen is a hodgepodge of appliances. There is a bathtub-sized, commercial fryer sitting next to a household electric range. The dish-washing machine is as long as a shuttle bus, and about as unwieldy.

“That’s the dish-washing monster,” said Oleg Dobrzhamskiy, who works for Nemcova. “When you put something in it that’s not very big, it just flies around and makes a lot of noise.”

Bermensolo said she and Hu plan to grow the kitchen and hope to create more food incubator spaces in the future.

“There really is a demand out there for kitchen incubators,” she said.

They’ll soon have some competition, though. The city has received several bidders for a food incubator planned for Crown Heights, according to a spokesman for the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

Nemcova said the growing cottage food industry is a boon for the borough.

“To know that industry is alive and well in Brooklyn makes me feel good,” she said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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