Take space to set up a food business

Commercial food preparation spaces take everyone from start-ups to large firms

In a sprawling industrial estate on the outskirts of Bray, Co Wicklow, there’s a stylish, spacious and bright unit where 16 food businesses share a communal kitchen, meeting room, break-out areas and delivery/despatch bay. Some are start-ups and others are established businesses that just need some extra space and facilities.

At one of the long stainless steel tables in the food preparation area, Louise O’Callaghan is testing a recipe for sundried tomato pesto for a range of fresh produce that will be launched in Nourish health food shops this month.

At the next table former banker Mari Donelan is filling cartons of fragrant pasta sauce and curry sauce for her Dan & Monstro children's range. And in her neat and ordered corner, former social worker Clare Wilkinson is spreading the gospel that "everyone should eat more cake", as long as it is her "guilt-free" Goodness Gracious range of raw, vegan, paleo friendly mousse cakes.

Newmarket Kitchen is a food incubation centre, where as well as sharing commercial kitchen facilities, members can avail of packaging and design consultancy and assistance with distribution, get advice on securing finance, make networking contacts, and learn from the experiences of their fellow food entrepreneurs.

Shane Bonner, a former accountant who lost his job in his family's construction firm during the downturn, came up with the idea for the centre when he was helping out a friend who had a market stall and needed to find food preparation space. It was tougher to secure than he had envisaged, so he decided to fill what he saw as a gap in the market. Last April he launched his facility in Bray Business Park, with the intention of creating "a food community where members can create and collaborate".

Membership rates depend on what services are required. The starting price point of €450 a month gets you a designated work table and access to all the high-end equipment and facilities – in the evenings and at weekends. Daytime access costs more. “Members sign a membership agreement; the idea of the place is that everyone has to respect the other businesses, no matter how big or how small they are,” Bonner says. There are house rules to observe too, mostly health and safety guidelines, but also an instruction to “always look out for your fellow members. It seems to be closely adhered to, with several members mentioning the help they’ve been given by others using the facility.”

There are 16 food businesses using Newmarket Kitchen, with room for four more, and Bonner has plans to expand. The biggest space is allocated to Gather & Gather, a catering firm using the facility to prepare food for 900 LinkedIn employees while their new headquarters is being built.

Rotisserie company Poulet Bonne Femme makes its stocks and gravy there, and coffee shops Baked and Love Supreme use the space to prepare food. There are lots of small food producers, and start-ups too. The most recent member is Shannon School of Hotel Management graduate Naveen Bachani, whose Vada Pow potato-based Indian-spiced vegetarian burgers go into production this month. Great Irish Bake Off finalist Ali Mitter uses the kitchen to make her lavish special occasion cakes which she sells under the brand Ali's Adventures in Bakerland.

Medical secretary Katrina Crawford and her husband John Jenkins use the facility to bottle the organic cold-pressed sesame and peanut oils they import from Myanmar (formerly Burma), a social enterprise venture they initiated after a honeymoon trekking trip there and which they now run as well as holding down full-time jobs.

“We transport the oils in 20 litre drums which we get delivered to Newmarket Kitchen. The first shipment arrived at the end of July last year and we spent August bottling. We use Newmarket Kitchen to store the bottled oils. The last shipment was 250 litres of each, which gave us 2,000 x 250ml bottles. Our next shipment arrives at the end of this month,” Crawford says. The Bayin brand oils are sold in food stores in Dublin, and in SuperValu shops in south Dublin (for stockists see bayin.ie).

The community aspect of the venture appeals to many of the members. Nourish chef O’Callaghan says. “I like the fact that it’s communal, that you get to talk to different people and see what’s on offer. But you’ve your own space too.”

Wilkinson finds the atmosphere supportive. “It’s great to be able to come in and talk to people who’ve been at it a bit longer, just to get advice; when you’re on your own you need that support, to make sure you’re not making mistakes.” For Donelan, whose son Ben, a picky eater, inspired her sauces in which lots of vegetables are “hidden”, the facility saves her time. “I can make 100 sauces here in about four hours.”

So if all that’s been stopping you putting your food business dream into practice is a lack of kitchen space, think again.

See newmarketkitchen.com

Bord Bia has a listing of food incubation centres, see http://bit.ly/1Qq41HB

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