An incubator kitchen has opened in Dade City, to promote economic development through food businesses.
The new facility is a collaborative effort between University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS)-Pasco County extension, the Pasco Economic Development Council, Inc.’s SMARTstart incubator program and Pasco County.
The kitchen was officially unveiled on Sept. 23, during a ribbon cutting at the Stallings Building, in Dade City.
Pasco County Commission Chairman Ron Oakley, told those gathered, “This kitchen is going to do great things for Pasco County. It’s going to start those businesses off, and then they’re going to create jobs.”
The incubator will be operated in a renovated kitchen, where participants will learn culinary skills and entrepreneurs will have a launchpad for new businesses.
Dr. Whitney Elmore said she had that vision in mind, when she first saw the building five years ago.
“Turning this corner out here on 14th Street, I saw this county-owned (Stallings)building sitting unused in a community that was, frankly, in need of resource development and economic opportunity.
“I saw this building’s potential to become an educational outreach center where members of the community, and all of Pasco County, could come for educational services and furthermore, empowerment,” Elmore said.
The Stallings Building, also now known as the One Stop Shop, was established in 1991.
It had been vacant when Elmore, the director for the Pasco Extension Office, came across it.
She has helped to establish the building as a hub for educational classes and food demonstrations.
The kitchen was not in a suitable condition for showing demonstrations, Elmore said.
The renovation has been three years in the making, she added.
The $30,000-project included refurbishing the oven hood, installing a built-in grease trap and new ceiling tiles. There also is a pantry closet to store dry foods and other products.
Welbilt, a kitchen equipment company, donated a stove, oven, a three-compartment sink, stainless steel counters, an ice maker, a fridge and a freezer.
“Not only did they donate that kitchen equipment that you see in there,” the director said, “they helped us figure out what needs to go where, to optimize safety and to optimize utility of the different parts.”
And Welbilt is planning to do more, Elmore said.
Oakley said the project is a “public-private partnership, working together for the betterment of the community.”
After the ceremonial ribbon cutting, guests had the opportunity to tour the newly-built kitchen.
What sets the incubator kitchen apart from other commercial kitchens, said Elmore, is that it’s open to the public to stock and preserve food.
The kitchen can be a learning space and can serve as a stock room, for a culinary instructor about to teach a class.
The storage space can be used by food trucks, too.
Those using the kitchen for storage will pay a fee.
Dan Mitchell, manager of Pasco Economic Development Council’s SMARTstart incubator program, has been involved in the project, too.
SMARTstart offers memberships so people can take advantage of the kitchen.
“When we start a new entrepreneur [as] a member, we build an action plan for them,” Mitchell explained. “If they think it’s going to take them a year to launch, we meet with them once a month, we coach them, we hold them accountable and we help them get to that launch date.”
Elmore said the kitchen will help people develop skills to be culinary entrepreneurs. She also thinks it will be an incentive for migrant workers to stay within the region.
Elmore also believes the kitchen will give people healthier food options, which will lead to fewer chronic illnesses.
The kitchen could help reduce crime, too, she said.
“We know through many different models all across the nation, and all kinds of studies, that if you offer economic opportunity, job growth development [and] educational services, that you can cut down on the crime,” Elmore explained.
And with a community garden based outside the Stallings Building, the kitchen provides a convenient space for preparing one’s own produce.
Long-term plans include starting an educational program for single mothers to become businesswomen within the food industry, as well as adding new incubator kitchens throughout Pasco County.
“That’s our goal,” said Mitchell, “to knock down the barriers to entries to starting a business, and be that launching pad.”