01.04.2011 – Kitchen Startups Turn Up the Heat in Harlem – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

Kitchen startups turn up the heat in Harlem

HBK Incubates, a culinary incubator sponsored by the city’s Economic Development Corp., is catering to food retailers who want to expand their reach.

By Benjamin J. Spencer
Published: January 4, 2011 – 3:31 pm

Small food businesses in East Harlem got a shot in the arm Tuesday when the city’s Economic Development Corp. opened HBK Incubates, a new kitchen incubator space at neighborhood market La Marqueta.The incubator program is designed to help fledgling, home-based food retailers grow their businesses by providing them with inexpensive kitchen space, access to professional equipment and technical training, according to the EDC. Hot Bread Kitchen, a tenant at La Marqueta, will oversee the daily operations of the incubator and its training programs. The nonprofit, which trains immigrant women for culinary work, already uses the space for its headquarters.Elvis Hernandez, owner of home-grown cake business Daisita Bakery, plans to use the additional space and equipment he’s getting as a tenant at La Marqueta to expand his business to 100 supermarkets from his current 19. Mr. Hernandez started making cakes for friends and local markets after his bodega folded in 2007.

“My wife used to make the cakes whenever there was a birthday,” he said. “The next thing we knew, the guests at our birthday parties were calling to request them.”

Pretty soon, he says, they were struggling to fill the orders in their small home kitchen. The larger space and better equipment, he says, will allow him to increase production of his signature poundcakes from seven or eight a day to 20. He also plans to expand into flan, rice pudding and bread pudding, among other treats.

The center introduces a sorely-needed revitalization tool for an economically down-trodden area, said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a major proponent of the incubators.

“First and foremost, this revitalization will help a market that is barely holding on,” Ms. Quinn said. “And it’s going to put people to work.” Ms. Quinn also said that the incubators will help foster a local food scene in an area with a shortage of culinary establishments. The program was funded from a relatively small $1.5 million investment from the city, she said, but will provide major benefits to the community, starting with creating jobs for people with even entry-level culinary skills.

“It’s going to help some people start from zero, total start-ups,” Ms. Quinn said.

La Marqueta, formerly a mainly Hispanic market located under the Harlem Metro-North tracks, has struggled since the late 1970s to retain small food retailers, according to the Community Board 11 website. Once standing nearly empty, the main building has seen some recent activity with the arrival of several artisan craft shops and fresh fruit and vegetable vendors. But the kitchen incubator will still take up about a third of the 10,000-square-foot space of La Marqueta, according to the community board.

In a press release, the EDC said HBK Incubators will also train culinary workers for food certification and will be capable of holding up to 40 tenants on a revolving, time-share basis.