Though the long-held narrative that 90 percent of restaurants flop before they hit their first anniversary was proven false by a University of California Berkeley study — the actual number is only 17 percent — the process of founding such a business still is difficult, especially for low-income families, immigrants, and refugees.
It is for this reason that the Food Innovation Network, a global-to-local program created to combat inequality in south King County’s food system, created the Food Business Incubator in 2017. The program offers budding restaurateurs subsidized rent at a shared commercial kitchen, assistance with permitting, networking, coaching, menu and product development, and more.
Food Innovation Network (FIN) program coordinator Kara Martin said a feasibility study with extensive community outreach served as the catalyst to launch the incubator.
“There was certainly demand and interest, so we decided to do two things,” Martin said. “In the short term, (we had) to get a pilot program running so we can give a quick response to the community. Meanwhile, we were looking further down the road for a more permanent, long-term space.”
The short-term solution was the sublease of a small kitchen in downtown Kent, where the incubator currently operates. The permanent space ultimately will be a Tukwila-based food hall where FIN hopes to relocate to by spring 2020.
The 2,900-square-foot facility will have a commercial kitchen, food stalls, and a community dining area and will host 20 local food businesses, eight of which will rent stalls while the others use the kitchen for catering and farmers markets, according to the network’s website.
The Food Hall will be located within Tukwila Village, a mixed-use development that also will include affordable senior housing. Construction began in December under developer Pacific Northern Construction Company.
Located at the intersection of Tukwila International Boulevard and South 144th Street, an earlier phase of village development established a branch of the King County Library System, a community room and commercial kitchen, a Kona Kai Coffee, an outdoor plaza, 193 senior-living apartments, and the headquarters for Sustainable Housing for Ageless Generations.
The State of Washington appropriated $400,000 toward the food hall, and Martin said corporate sponsors, local foundations, and the organization’s public campaign also helped funding.
“The businesses are also helping with fundraising, we have a lunch pop-up series,” Martin said. “We pay for the ingredients, and all the proceeds go toward The Food Hall.”
Besides helping attain permits, licensing, and insurance, businesses partnered with the Food Business Incubator can showcase their businesses at the Taste Around the Globe farmers market booth that attends several local markets.
“The businesses run it themselves, they just operate under our permit at our booth. It cuts down on cost and also helps promote them,” Martin said.
Food Innovation Network also works with StartZone at Highline College and Ventures Nonprofit to provide business training, according to Martin. The program already has helped launch 12 local businesses in the past two years, including Taste of the Congo, founded by Caroline Musitu.
“I was hesitant to do a food business; I didn’t know if I could be successful or not,” Musitu said in a promotional video for the incubator. “But with the help of (the network), now I am confident because they support me.”
The network has begun enrolling businesses to join the incubator. Interested individuals can contact Njambi Gishuru at firstname.lastname@example.org.