At around 9 a.m. on June 15, Samantha Sherman, owner of The Hampton Grocer, arrived in a rented kitchen at the Stony Brook University Food Business Incubator in Calverton. She soon left with the last batch of The Hampton Grocer granola.
“I cooked 300 pounds of granola in an hour,” Sherman said after finishing. “I do all my production in the kitchen of the incubator. It’s a big space with big ovens.
While restaurants have often faced financial starvation during much of the pandemic, Stony Brook University’s business incubator in Calverton is, if not in the midst of a feast, as busy as ever. Shared kitchens have sprung up on Long Island, providing culinary entrepreneurs with a place to work, including this kind of culinary hub.
“It’s amazing how many new companies have come in,” said Elaine Peterson, operations manager at Alpha Honey Health, who has been using the incubator since 2020. “The incubator is here to help us succeed and connect us to a network, be it labels, marketing or retailers.
Don’t ask Calverton what’s up, unless you have time to listen to the answer. Yvonne Schultz runs the incubator, used by 64 companies, 23 of which have a dedicated space.
Companies using the incubator, focusing on food and drink, offer pickles, cocktail mixers, dips, honey, a dizzying array of baked goods, pet treats and more.
“The incubator brings a sophisticated, high-quality kitchen space that we can use,” said Peterson. “You have to have the cleanest kitchen level. This kitchen must be impeccable.
Businesses work in spaces that include a shared-use, commercially-made kitchen divided into five zones, each with its own equipment. There is a cooking area, gluten-free kitchen, packing area, storage space and operations space. Add to that a walk-in refrigeration, freezer space, blast chillers, dishwashing station, product washing sink and mobile steel tables.
“They’re trying to build community, to connect people,” said Stacy Malinow, who runs Bliss Pastries, of the camaraderie and the kitchen space. “With the pandemic, it was hard. Everyone cooks in their own kitchen and stays alone.
Juliet Day, owner and head baker at Baked By Juliet, launched her business in June 2020 and started working at the incubator in January, making scones and cookies.
“A lot of them have been in this industry a lot longer than I have,” Day said of his fellow entrepreneurs. “They are very willing to give advice and suggest resources that I might not have known.”
Malinow said Shultz provided support throughout the process. “Yvonne helped with cooking information, suppliers, finding a company for the packaging, general knowledge,” she said. “She gave me a lot of advice.
Every entrepreneur has a story to tell. Day took a crash course in commerce after suspending his culinary studies. “I had planned to go to pastry school,” she says. “Then the pandemic happened. Things have stopped.
During the pandemic, Sherman saw demand increase for granola, which she incorporated into a business. “I started selling granola as part of the gift baskets I delivered,” Sherman said. “The granola business was booming. I decided to focus on the laser granola.
Malinow started making gluten-free baking in 2005 when her daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease. “I decided to take matters into my own hands and develop things that she would like to eat,” she said. “People said to me, ‘You should start a business.’ “
Bliss Pastries was born, making gluten-free chocolate cookies, brownies, chocolate chip cookie pies and muffins. Malinow baked in the incubator’s gluten-free kitchen. “They don’t taste gluten free,” she said. “People don’t feel like they are eating something different from everyone else. Everyone wants to eat them.
Margaret and Bruce McDonough developed dog treats for their dog after becoming dissatisfied with what was available. Talk Treats To Me started doing business at the Incubator in February 2020, making beef, beef liver and chicken breast treats.
“People said, ‘Can I get some for my dog? “” said McDonough, whose wife has since died. “We said, ‘OK’. “
Every business has a niche, often serving specialty tastes or providing fresh, premium, or healthy produce. Alpha Honey Health imports Manuka honey from New Zealand, which the company describes as premium, tasty and healthy. “They use helicopters to retrieve the material,” Peterson said.
The encouragement of the incubator and the entrepreneurs helps, but also the recognition and satisfaction of seeing the product sell. Malinow said the Taste New York center in Dix Hills increased its orders after selling. Bliss Pastries recently delivered baked goods to a Taste New York kiosk at Moynihan Train Hall in Manhattan.
Alpha Honey Health, meanwhile, just won a triple star superior taste award from the International Taste Institute in Brussels, Belgium. “As people come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, they appreciate a healthy lifestyle more,” Peterson added.
While each businessman does his own job, even during the pandemic, an incubator can make it feel like they’re really in the same boat – and sometimes helping each other.
“The incubator is a great community of people,” said Bruce McDonough. “The people are for the most part very united. They try to work hard and get things done.
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