An abandoned supermarket in West Philadelphia saw new life last Friday with a ribbon cutting ceremony for what the city is calling a “food incubator.”
The $6 million Dorrance H. Hamilton Center for Culinary Enterprises (CCE) is designed to ride off constant demand for new cuisine by furnishing would-be chefs with the equipment and advice to move a restaurant concept from dream to reality. Although the ribbon has been cut, the CCE is not expected to be fully operational until the end of the month due to construction delays.
Developed by The Enterprise Center, a West Philly-based non-profit economic development agency, the 13,000-square-foot complex will provide aspirants with four fully equipped commercial-grade kitchen facilities and a multimedia center for education and marketing purposes. It will all be available 24/7 to accommodate everyone from late-night line cooks to early rising bakers, and annual membership to access the facilities will be $100 to reach as wide an audience as possible.
The CCE will also employ staff members to provide on-site training, business advice and financial assistance to help part-time members move out of the incubator and into their own businesses. It has attracted 50 registrants and 200 prospective members.
The CCE echoes the DIY entrepreneurial spirit that has underpinned similar projects, such as Indy Hall, a popular and profitable co-working space that helps start-ups secure shared office space for affordable rates. Other cities have experimented with food incubators, which have been notoriously difficult to sustain financially due to inconsistent revenue and high utility bills.
Designed to avoid such pitfalls, the CCE is the product of a study of over a dozen other incubators in peer cities, like Washington D.C. The Enterprise Center wants to position the CCE as the center of a larger business supply network and has already contracted with the University of Pennsylvania to produce $600,000 worth of baked goods annually for their dining halls.
In addition to a donation from Campbell’s Soup heiress Dorrance H. Hamilton — from whom the center draws its name — the project was financed in part by a constellation of agencies including Philadelphia LISC and the federal Economic Development Administration. These groups envisioned the project as an institution that could spin-off restaurants across the city, but also serving a secondary function as an economic development engine for the immediate neighborhood’s ailing commercial center at 48th and Spruce streets.
To that end, the CCE will include three retail spaces that front on 48th Street to increase foot traffic and commercial activity in the area. Tenants will include a South Asian concept from the owners of Desi Village, an Indian restaurant and an Ethiopian coffee house.
“It’s about investment…this is one of the greatest outpourings that we’ve seen in West Philadelphia for economic vitality, putting people to work, and making more and more progress,” said Mayor Michael Nutter.
The CCE’s own projections aim to launch 10 new food businesses each year, consistently spinning off between 126 and 207 jobs annually by its third year of operation.
Ryan Briggs is an investigative reporter based in Philadelphia. He has contributed to the Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY, the Philadelphia City Paper, Philadelphia Magazine and Hidden City.