HOST INTRO: Starting a food business is risky. At the outset, costs are high and there’s no guarantee that a new venture will turn a profit in its first years. One space in the Bronx is trying to change the odds of success. It’s called Bronx Cookspace and it’s been helping young food entrepreneurs get established through an incubator program. This year is its 25th anniversary. Makana Eyre has the story.
((Sound: Making empanadas, music playing (0:04)
[Fade up empanada sound under trax] Inside a building in a quiet South Bronx neighborhood, Ramon Acevedo is making empanadas.
(Sound: making empanadas, music playing (0:03))
For $25 per hour, he rents a unit of this industrial kitchen. This space has been vital to Acevedo. He started working here in 2004 and at one point he was making 50,000 empanadas a day. They went to restaurants all over New York. But during the recession of 2008, business plummeted. Bronx Cookspace, he says, gave him the flexibility, skills, and encouragement to rebuild.
Acevedo 1: They gave us all the confidence for us to stay and to try to revive the business because at that time, practically I was in bankruptcy. I never declared that, but it ate all my savings. (0:15)
He’s still going. But these days he makes only a third the amount of empanadas he used to.
Alix Fellman is the program manager of the space.
Fellman 1: Incubator programs are important because it allows food businesses to get started with very low overhead instead of opening your own space and paying rent and buying equipment, you can come in here and rent by the hour and get started on a very small scale. (0:16)
Fellman helps people like Acevedo grow their businesses – as well as offering cooking facilities, Bronx Cookspace helps tenants navigate city regulations and improve their marketing.
She shows me around the kitchen…
Sound: “Let’s open the door. So this is one of our walk in refrigerator units. We have four.”
People come to the kitchen from all different backgrounds – some are low income, trying to get back on their feet after a job loss. Others are industry professionals, and others…
Fellman 2: We have people who have never worked in a commercial kitchen before who make a pie and everybody says oh this is so good you should sell this and they finally say, ok yeah, I’m going to try it. (0:12)
That was Acevedo’s story. He began making empanadas in his apartment about 15 years ago, then decided it was worth trying to expand. He’s grateful he found this place.
Acevedo 2: Well it has been my bread and butter. (0:06)
He says without it…
Acevedo 3: I think I would not exist in New York. I would have moved to somewhere else. (0:08)
He’s chugging along, but for others this space has been a launching pad for success. The best known company to come out of the space is The Farmer’s Dog, an organic dog/all natural dog food company. It uses ingredients like kale, quinoa, and steak in its dog food.
Fellman 3: They make human grade dog food, their catch phrase is if your dog doesn’t like our food send it back and we’ll eat it. (0:15)
Today, The Farmer’s Dog is based in Chicago and distributes nationwide. Fellman would love all the businesses here to be that successful…
Fellman 3: This is an incubator. Eventually, we want everybody in here to leave. We want them to grow, we want them to move on to a bigger better space. (0:08)
Acevedo and his team get back to their tasks. Behind him, the corn grinder hums, the music plays and thousands of yellow dumplings are pinched shut, put in cases, and frozen in the industrial freezers. Soon, they’ll make their way to restaurants throughout New York City.
Makana Eyre, Columbia Radio News.