It is going to get easier to be a small food business entrepreneur in the Triangle.
Three large projects are on the horizon — two in Raleigh and one in Chapel Hill — that will create marketplaces for dozens of small food businesses and lower the barriers for launching such enterprises.
Blue Dogwood Public Market, in a part of the old Fowler’s grocery store between Franklin and Rosemary streets in downtown Chapel Hill, is expected to open in November. Modeled after European food markets, Blue Dogwood will host up to 16 food stalls, including a butcher shop, two bakeries, a seafood market, and beer and wine vendors, said Kelly Taylor, one of four partners in the project.
“Ours is really helping people to get up and running with low startup costs,” said Taylor, who plans to open an Italian coffee shop and gluten-free bakery in the 3,600-square-foot space.
The other two projects are Morgan Street Food Hall & Market and Transfer Co. Olde East, both in downtown Raleigh.
Niall Hanley, who owns the Hibernian restaurants and Raleigh Beer Garden, is converting the 22,000-square-foot former Jillian’s bar into Morgan Street Food Hall & Market. Hanley said it will be home to up to 65 vendors when it opens next spring. Well-known eastern North Carolina pitmaster Ed Mitchell is seriously considering signing a lease for a satellite location of his restaurant, Ed Mitchell’s Q at the Creek, opening next spring in the Brier Creek area, said Mitchell’s business partner and developer, Vish Panjwani.
On the east side of downtown Raleigh, developer Jason Queen is converting the old Stone’s Warehouse on East Davie Street into Transfer Co. Olde East. The 42,000-square-foot building will offer production and retail space for both new and established local food businesses as well as a test kitchen, grocery store, cafe, urban farms and more.
“We’re trying to get the whole entrepreneurial food and beverage cycle on site,” said Queen, who noted they hope to have the first tenants in the space by fall 2017.
The biggest barrier to starting a small food business is the cost of a kitchen. You either have to rent kitchen space by the hour at a commissary kitchen, like The Cookery in Durham, Piedmont Food & Agriculture Processing Center in Hillsborough, or any restaurant kitchen during off hours. Or you have to build your own and pay for equipment — a combination that can be very expensive.
These three projects are trying to make that easier by offering kitchens, shorter leases and monthly rents that can include access to shared facilities, utilities, marketing, security and more.
“I think these projects are going to offer a lot,” said Jill Willett, a marketing coach for food entrepreneurs and founder of the networking group Triangle Food Makers. “What I love about each of them is it creates a little community centered around food. It is access to shared kitchen space at a lower cost than building it out on your own. ... It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
There is definite interest. Hanley said he has received about 190 applications for the 50 to 65 spaces in the Morgan Street project, which he sees as a business incubator.
“It’s very tough to get in the restaurant business. The rents are high and getting higher, especially with the big national chains looking at Raleigh,” Hanley said. “The food hall will be a good testing ground.”
At Morgan Street, Hanley said, business owners can spend $200-$400 a month for a kiosk to $4,000-$6,000 for a full kitchen. His hope is that these businesses would spend three to five years there and move on as more seasoned business owners to locations in Raleigh’s surrounding communities, like Garner and Wake Forest.
“We’re encouraging young chefs and food truck owners to reach out to us,” Hanley said.
Between now and then, Clark decided to open Hook & Larder, a fresh seafood and prepared food stall in the Blue Dogwood project. Clark, who built a reputation for serving locally-sourced, under-utilized fish, is partnering with Salty Catch Seafood Co. to source fish and seafood.
Clark said he plans to sell fresh fish and seafood and prepared foods, such as smoked fish spreads, seafood salads, shrimp and crab rolls, and pimento cheese. He likes that the food stall allows him to maintain a profile in the food community and get back to the core of a chef’s job.
“I’m looking forward to being a one-man show,” Clark said. “I’m still focusing on South Atlantic under-utilized fish. It gives me a platform to do what I’m passionate about.”
▪ Blue Dogwood Public Market is a 3,600-square-foot building with a 3,000-square-foot outdoor space at 306 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill. Not only will each food stall have its own small kitchen area, they will share a 200-square-foot production kitchen. Tenants include an Italian coffee shop and gluten-free bakery, pastry shop, butcher shop, seafood market, wine store, beer store, Latin American vegan food stall, organic juice and smoothies bar, chocolatier and homemade pasta shop.
▪ Morgan Street Food Hall & Market is a 22,000-square-foot space inside and outside at the former Jillian’s bar, 411 W. Morgan St., Raleigh. It will house up to 65 vendors (taking applications now) and is expected to open next spring. Pitmaster Ed Mitchell is considering being a tenant; Mitchell has a new restaurant, Ed Mitchell’s Q in the Creek, opening in the Brier Creek area.
▪ Transfer Co. Olde East is 42,000-square-foot property at 500 E. Davie St., Raleigh. The project is expected to include a grocery store and cafe run by the owners of the Saxapahaw General Store and other food retail. Another anchor tenant is Videri Chocolate Factory; the bean-to-bar chocolate maker is not moving from its West Davie Street location but is expanding production.