Commercial kitchen incubator to open in East Pasco

An incubator commercial kitchen is expected to begin operating in September at 15029 14th St., in Dade City.

The initiative is the result of a partnership between the Pasco Extension Office, which is part of the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences, Pasco County and the Pasco County Economic Development Council Inc., with assistance from Welbilt.

Welbilt, a global manufacturer of commercial restaurant equipment, has provided equipment for the kitchen. It contributed a six-burner range, a single-door refrigerator, a single-door freezer, an under-the-counter ice machine, shelving, and stainless steel work tables.

Welbilt Inc., has delivered the kitchen equipment for a commercial kitchen incubator at the One Stop Shop, in the UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension One Stop Shop Stallings Building at 15029 14th St., in Dade City. From left: Mick Hughes, Welbilt; Elizabeth Urquiola, UF/IFAS; Steve Flook, Welbilt; Dan Mitchell, Pasco EDC; and, Michael Anderson, Welbilt. (Courtesy of Pasco Economic Development Council Inc.)

“They have been working with us, very closely, as an excellent partner, and we do appreciate that donation of equipment from them,” Dr. Whitney C. Elmore, director of the Pasco County Extension Office, told members of the Pasco County Commission at a meeting last month.

“They’ve worked closely with us, with facilities from Pasco County, to retrofit an older commercial kitchen space in that building, which has been actually fantastic,” Elmore added.

The new kitchen “is going to open up a lot of opportunities for us and the community,” Elmore added. It will be operating out of the One Stop Shop, located within the Stallings Building in East Pasco.

Dan Mitchell, program manager for Pasco EDC’s SMARTstart Incubator Program, said the updated commercial kitchen will be used for community classes and by SMARTstart.

“It will be used for our members who might need to use it to launch their food businesses,” Mitchell said. “They’ll be able to do a little bit of production out of there, if they’re one of our incubator members, as well as collaborate with local growers, local chefs, other food entrepreneurs.

“So, it will really be a space that will hopefully foster some food innovation, some excitement around food business in Pasco County. There’s a lot of that bubbling under the surface,” he said.

For instance, the kitchen makes it possible for a family living in the area to lease a garden plot for free, grow some vegetables and make a product they could sell at a farmer’s market.

“Once a business needs to grow beyond a farmer’s market, we have all of our SMARTstart programs, like co-starters, our microloan program, and everything else to support entrepreneurs,” Mitchell said.

The Pasco EDC offers a host of programs aimed at helping businesses grow, at whatever stage they happen to be in, Mitchell noted. And, Pasco County has incentives aimed to attract high-wage jobs to the county.

The idea of creating the incubator kitchen resulted from talks involving a variety of stakeholders, including the Pasco EDC, the Extension Office and others, Mitchell said.

“What we noticed is there’s a lot interest in food businesses. There’s a lot of agriculture in Pasco County. There’s citrus, beef, kumquats, blueberries out East. Then out West we have some breweries and some seafood production. And, one of the things that we don’t have, however, is a good local distribution model, where food can get from these different producers to our local restaurants,” Mitchell said.

But, he added, “there’s not a good easy way for these people to connect.”

“It became apparent that it would be nice if we had some kind of food hub. So, the Pasco EDC decided to go ahead and host what’s called its Food Hub Task Force.”

The group meets monthly, with the aim of creating a model that will encourage food-related partnerships and generate jobs, he said.

The commercial kitchen opens the door to new possibilities, Mitchell said.

“If you produce the food in your own home, you’re not allowed to sell other than direct to consumer. If you produce in a commercial kitchen, you’re suddenly allowed to do a lot more,” he explained.

A ribbon cutting to celebrate the incubator kitchen is planned for Sept. 23 at 2:30 p.m.

Another event has been planned, as well, to help explore the possibilities the new kitchen is creating. That event is set for Nov. 20 and has been dubbed, “Food is the Biggest Business.”

“We’re going to have four or five food entrepreneurs that are already successful. Maybe a successful restaurateur, maybe a food truck guy, maybe a celebrity chef. Those types of people,” Mitchell said.

“It will be open to anyone interested in those types of businesses, from any direction,” he said, and, it will give people a chance to know others who share an interest in the food industry — from a variety of perspectives.

From there, who knows?

“It really comes down to each individual entrepreneur and what their dreams are,” Mitchell said.

But, whatever path they choose to pursue, chances are Pasco EDC will be able to help them along the way, Mitchell said.

Published July 10, 2019

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