RI culinary incubator marks first anniversary

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed presents a check for $85,000 to Hope & Main, a culinary incubator in Warren, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015. (Twitter/Senator Jack Reed)

A culinary incubator project in Rhode Island celebrated its first anniversary Sunday and received a federal grant for $85,000.

In its first year, the founder of Hope & Main said the organization has helped launch 50 new food businesses and created 75 jobs.

Lisa Raiola, the founder, said the incubator is based in Warren because the project is backed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan for rural development.

The incubator is based in the former Main Street School in Warren, which is also celebrating its centennial.

"Everything's here for people to start their business," Raiola said. "It's the kitchens plus the business and technical assistance that people need."

Raiola said she came up with the idea for a shared space about six years ago, after the recession.

"Because it's a shared use space, it's kind of like Uber or Airbnb, where you're never really at capacity," she said. "You're able to continue to take new businesses."

Raiola said refurbishing the school cost about $3 million and that people rent space monthly or by the hour.

While there are other incubators across the country for culinary businesses, Raiola said this is the first in Rhode Island.

At its first birthday celebration Sunday, dozens came out to enjoy a farmers market, a pie-eating contest and square dancing.

Among the businesses at the farmers market is a rugelach business called Just Like Nana's.

"I like making things happen and people love the rugelach and I watch a lot of Shark Tank, so I said, 'Why not?' Karen Griffin, the owner of Just Like Nana's, said.

Griffin, a retired schoolteacher, said she couldn't have started the business on her own.

"You rent the kitchen, they help you with all the things like branding, marketing and licensing, they hold your hand as much as you need them to," Griffin said.

She's been working out of Hope & Main since June.

She told NBC 10 her mother was entrepreneurial and her grandmother cooked for the family until she became ill. When that happened, Griffin said, she took over cooking for the family.

Gov. Gina Raimondo and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed showed up to cheer on the project Sunday.

Reed presented a check for $85,000 from the USDA.

Raimondo said the project is an example for other industries of economic growth.

"There are of course incubators for the software business and the medical device business," Raimondo said. "One of the things we are so great at in Rhode Island is food, and that's why I give great credit for the entrepreneurs who started this."

In the last year, Hope & Main said it had a $1.1 million impact on the local economy.

Raiola said the U.S.D.A. loan is for a term of 40 years at 3.5 percent interest. Because of that, she said, both the U.S.D.A. and Hope & Main are taking "risks" on the project.

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