Hope & Main, Warren’s unused elementary school turned food business incubator will host its grand opening on October 3. Their community-facing facility on Main boasts 6,000 feet of commercial kitchen space, a demo kitchen classroom and plenty of parking for community events like a market. The first cohort of applicants have been accepted, gaining access to the code-compliant facilities required to produce, package and bring a product to market. They receive training on production, sales and marketing, as well, with larger local food companies donating their know-how for free workshops. From my conversations with them, some of the startups wouldn’t exist right now if Hope & Main hadn’t sprung up. In many ways the work is only just beginning, but the grand opening also marks a dream realized.
Just a couple of years ago, the outcome did not seem so certain. Lisa Raiola was sitting in a bar in Island Park, hundreds of thousands of dollars sunk into Hope & Main. The doubts were beginning to mount along with the debt, and she confesses she had begun to think, “this isn’t going to happen.” It was then when she got a call from the USDA, saying they’d like to give her the state’s entire allotment of the Rural Development Community Facilities Loan, at $3.2 million. Lisa turned to her husband and asked, “what are we drinking?”
It was Lisa’s exhaustion with regulation five years previous that lead her to conceive of creating a nonprofit culinary incubator in RI. After recovering from a serious illness with a passion for nutrition as a path to wellness, and frustrated with the inaccessibility of good food to those with medical issues, she aimed to create a company that would bring food to medical shut-ins. She had a good idea, but began to see lots of barriers to entry and lots of regulations to wade through. Her hunt for a modest 2,500 foot public space for a kitchen, was her first introduction to the 17,000 ft unused public school on Main Street in Warren. All this space got the wheels turning wondering about others who might have great ideas, but were being dissuaded by the complex regulation of an unfamiliar industry, as well as risky costs. She googled “incubators for food businesses” and found lots of them, but none in Rhode Island. She became determined to fill that void.
Rhode Island, Lisa reasoned, already has a solid foundation of local food production with over 1,200 farms and the highest direct to consumer sales of produce of any state. For her there was a wasted opportunity for businesses to add value to existing produce, as only 1% of what is caught and grown is consumed in-state. Those in Warren itself were certainly persuaded by her vision, as when the town required a quorum of 125 townsfolk to vote on the sale of the school it caused a traffic jam, with over 400 people voting, overwhelmingly in favor.
Accepted applicants vary and include food educators, caterers, food trucks, farmers who have seasonal products and some exciting new food companies. Fox Point Pickling Company are producing Garlic and Spicy Dill Pickles for farmers markets and gourmet food shops, Agraria farm is making organic fruit leathers and Jeff Powell at Ocean State Smoked Fish Co. is, well, you can probably guess what he’s doing with our fantastic seafood. These entrepreneurs are already getting cozy in the incubator, with the Cupcake Contessa’s making cupcakes with candied jalapeños from fellow Hope & Main resident, the Backyard Food Company. Lisa recounts how the Contessas Marylee Dixon and Karianne Polak cried and hugged Lisa when they were told that they were accepted. For Lisa, this sort of interaction already represents an early return on investment. 691 Main Street, Warren. 401-480-4524
Newport Lobster Shack Starts Cooking on the Wharf
Having already cut out the middleman by selling Lobster and Crab at market prices direct from Aquidneck Island fisherman at their shack, the cooperative of fisherman down on long wharf are cutting out another step. This time it’s that wretched chore in-between their shack and your mouth; the one where your kitchen has a lobstery hangover odor the following morning. The Newport Lobster Shack Kitchen offers steamed lobster dinners, lobster rolls, lobster cakes, lobster bisque and others, and like any good shack they’re a family-friendly place with covered picnic tables and a nice view of the harbor. Check their website for seasonal hours. 150 Long Wharf, Newport. 401-847-1700.
Newport Food Truck Festival Returns
Following last year’s success, local food trucks are rolling into the Newport Yachting Center on Saturday October 25 from 11am to 4pm for the Newport Food Truck Festival. In attendance are many of the same trucks as last year, plus some new grills, running the gamut from French Bistro to Whoopie Pies.