The HVADC Cultivator
Hudson River Housing's POK Food and Beverage Academy
You are a new, Poughkeepsie-based food entrepreneur just renting kitchen space, but with dreams of owning your own restaurant someday. What do you need to be able to do that, and how do you go about scaling your growth so it’s manageable…?
Hudson River Housing (HRH) has a strong mission statement which states that they provide a continuum of services which improves lives and communities through housing with compassion and development with vision. They “create pathways out of homelessness” through empowerment, education, and advocacy. They strengthen communities by developing and preserving affordable housing and creating opportunities for people and places to thrive.
One of those opportunities is the Poughkeepsie Open Kitchen (POK). Located on the first floor of HRH’s Underwear Factory housing, POK provides food entrepreneurs and start-ups with an affordable space to develop and grow their business with an objective to support food entrepreneurs through commercial kitchen access, business development training, and community connections. POK has 3,000 square feet of combined cooking, preparation, and storage space and is well suited for caterers, food truck operators, retail or wholesalers, cooking or nutrition instructors, food concept developers, or pop-up restaurant space.
In early December, Hudson River Housing launched POK Food & Beverage Academy for six of its member businesses in a nine-month program designed to help them work toward their growth goals. Through the Academy, participating businesses learn how to articulate their objectives as a small food business, create connections to local resources in business development, marketing, real estate, and finance, and it also provides incentives for businesses to make the leap from the shared-use kitchen to vacant commercial space in downtown Poughkeepsie. Some of these incentives include mini-grants from HRH, wage subsidy for new hires from HRH, access to great lending terms via the Rhinebeck Bank innovation district loan fund and waiving of real estate broker fees so that money can be used for down payments on retail or production space. Not all cohort participants will be able to make the leap to their own space by the conclusion of the program, however they will be better prepared to do so when the time is right.
No two business needs are ultimately the same. “We are responding to the needs we see among our kitchen member community,” explained Elizabeth Druback-Celaya, Director of Strategic Initiatives at HRH. “We have many diverse, amazing businesses, as many as 30 using our space at any given time -- not all at the same time. Several of them are ready to take the next step to grow their businesses. That means different things for them – some may move out of our incubator kitchen and into their own brick and mortar space, some may launch a new product, some may grow into new retail locations. We want to help them take those next steps by providing resources and connections to people who can help them. We have assembled an amazing group of volunteer mentors. We have access to these folks, and we want to extend that access to our kitchen community.” Seven members of the 30 applied for the Academy program.
The POK Food & Beverage Academy held a kick-off for all cohort members and advisors in early December which will be followed by twice monthly sessions; one each month with advisory team members on a specific topic, and one each month with HRH to debrief. The Academy will wrap up with a final session and program evaluation for everyone involved next summer.
One component of the program is an incentive to hire graduates of HRH’s Culinary Training Program. This program helps formerly homeless individuals and those with other barriers to employment to regain confidence and learn new skills by working in the café at the Underwear Factory, explained Druback-Celaya. “If businesses participating in the Academy hire program graduates as part of their expansion plans, we will subsidize part of their wages for the first six months,” she said. “We hope that at least four program graduates will find employment in the food and beverage industry through this process.”
HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson is an advisor and mentor with an abundance of expertise to offer the program. She will be leading a training session on business development resources with Sarah Lee of Think Dutchess and Brandi Rider, Rhinebeck Bank.
Academy guest speakers will be from the Culinary Institute of America and several Main Street food entrepreneurs. Workshops include Marketing from Dutchess County Tourism and Lifestyle Legacy; Human Resources, Legal and Accounting from the HRH team. The program concludes with a food and beverage conference and program evaluation.
According to Druback-Celaya, the biggest need expressed by the participating members is assistance with branding and marketing. “Many of our businesses are run by people working other jobs to get by, or folks with young families, so marketing and getting the word out often falls by the wayside,” she noted. “Otherwise, our participants are very diverse – one wants to launch a food truck, a few want to get their specialty products into more outlets, a few are looking for their own first location. What is the same about all of them is the incredible passion and commitment they have to their craft. We are so thrilled to be a part of their journeys.”
Not My Wife's Cooking is a concession stand/catering business specializing in empanadas and Puerto Rican American Spanish based cuisine. Owners Jose and Taiye Sanchez are in the Academy program with aspirations of acquiring a food truck. Jose explained that the business started when their son was playing football in a league and after each game the parents would bring food for the tailgate party. “The parents would always compliment my empanadas and tell me that I should go into business and sell them,” he said. “I honestly thought that they were just being polite and kind, but then some of the parents started to request orders for their personal functions with payment.” Jose said his goals for the academy are severalfold; hoping to learn as much as possible on understanding the food market, how to best market a food truck business, network with professionals in the food and restaurant industry and small business community. “I hope to apply use what I learned to make better business decisions, leading to larger customer base, open doors to other catering opportunities,” he said, adding that he would like to continue to grow into owning “a chain of food trucks in multiple locations and at least one brick and mortar location.” As for the curious name of his business, he credited Not My Wife's Cooking as actually Taiye’s idea. “It does not mean that my wife cannot cook or imply that I am a better cook than her. The name came about because when my wife and I were brainstorming names for the business she jokingly stated that she is not going to do any of the cooking, and if anyone was to ask me who cooked the food, I was to let them know that it is ‘Not My Wife's Cooking.’ We both laughed about it, but then realized it was a great name, it’s catchy and truthful.”
Madeline Henriquez and her partner Jennifer Herman incorporated Earth, Wind and Fuego in March 2017 and became POK kitchen members in July 2017. They operate their retail kitchen café business nearly daily, making locally sourced, nutritious meals. Henriquez described that their goals are to secure funding to support their growth, learn how to get some of their products available to consumers at large and most important, learn about trademark and copyright to protect their intellectual capital. “Jen and I have operated without grants and loans since our incorporation and we’re in a place where without additional resources our company operations seem unsustainable,” said Henriquez. “We left our not-for-profit careers and dove into doing power and business differently, we want to share more of that with our community and the world at large. Profit is important, however what’s most important to us is educating people about our mission. People are moved by impact, and there is so much of that happening in and out of the kitchen.”
“HVADC offers a host of resources to help scale any food or ag business; ranging from funding opportunities, business planning, policy, land, jobs and more,” said HVADC’s Johnson. “What makes involvement with the Academy so exciting is the social premise of the HRH and how they developed the project to coincide with their mission and are now helping small businesses source local products while putting them on a road to success, which coordinates perfectly with what we do at HVADC,” She added.
To learn more about some of HVADC’s other initiatives and partnerships, please visit https://www.hvadc.org/projects--initiatives.
Photo Source: Hudson River Housing