Frenchtown’s KitchenShare Wins $548,000 to Support Local Food Entrepreneurs

TALLAHASSEE, FL – KitchenShare @ Heritage Hub has been awarded $500,000 from the USDA Local Food Promotion Program and $48,000 from the Knight Foundation Fund at the Community Foundation of North Florida. The public and private awards will support the development of a commercial kitchen rental facility and food business incubator program to be housed at Frenchtown Heritage Hub.

Heritage Hub is home to the Frenchtown Farmers Market, begun by Frenchtown leaders to improve access to healthy food and economic opportunity in the neighborhood. The KitchenShare program advances both of those goals, enhancing the potential of minority entrepreneurship while supporting growth of the local food system.

“There has been a dramatic increase in consumer demand for buying local,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This latest round of grants will expand the capacity of farmers and businesses to serve this growing market, help revitalize local economies, and support efforts around the country to provide fresh, healthy food to all Americans.”

Frenchtown Neighborhood Improvement Association (FNIA), the parent nonprofit of Heritage Hub, is a two-time recipient of USDA funding. The first award, $100,000, was granted in 2015 to expand the farmers market. The City of Tallahassee Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) purchased property on behalf of the FNIA project, enabling the expansion.

“We are now able to develop local and regional food businesses, and new market opportunities,” said FNIA Executive Director Jim Bellamy.

The KitchenShare funding announcement comes during Big Bend Minority Enterprise Development Week, a fitting backdrop for Bellamy’s vision of neighborhood revitalization. With over $400 billion in annual revenues, according to the National Minority Supplier Development Council, as cited in Growthology earlier this year, minority enterprise “can create jobs and revitalize distressed communities.”

Author of the article for the Kauffman Foundation publication, Melissa Bradley directs the Kogod Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Innovation Initiative at American University in Washington, DC. Bradley calls investment in minority business an “economic imperative.”

KitchenShare represents a significant investment in minority entrepreneurs. The incubator program will offer product development mentorship and branding support. The plan also boasts state-of-the-art technology in scheduling, sales tracking, and development of supply chain relationships among local farmers, bakers, and buyers. The tech innovators at Domi Station will partner on the project.

“Entrepreneurship is a force for community development,” said Lucas Lindsey, executive director of Domi Station. “Whether they’re working in technology or using technology to sell food products to new markets, it’s important we build a community of support around Tallahassee’s makers and creators.”

One of those creators, Shacafrica Simmons, has been developing local food knowledge across the region, teaching the art of healthy and flavorful food. A native of South Florida, the businesswoman came to Tallahassee with the dream of launching a kitchen incubator and helping others develop their talents. Chef Shac, as she is known to her clients and fans, is a partner on the project as well.

“Food-based business incubation is the key to economic growth for many in this community,” said Simmons. “I look forward to passing on my knowledge about the food and hospitality industry to the entrepreneurs who will plant the seeds of their companies right here at KitchenShare.”

With the growth projected in the hospitality industry for the Tallahassee area, and the need for culinary talent, KitchenShare is poised to make substantial impact on the local economy. KitchenShare will be the only commercial kitchen rental facility in 100 miles, curing a crippling void in local food processing capacity.

Open to all, yet targeting those underrepresented in business ownership, KitchenShare presents opportunity for economic advancement among women, people of color, veterans, and youth. The incubator supports will fill a gap in existing business services for the launch of microenterprise.

Some critical components of the KitchenShare concept, like branding and web development, were made possible through funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The award from the Knight Fund at the Community Foundation of North Florida filled a gap in the USDA funding that disallowed marketing of specific brands. The recent award builds on a planning grant FNIA received last year from Knight for the KitchenShare program.

“Knight Foundation supports innovative programs that enhance opportunity by building inclusive pathways to economic prosperity,” said Joy Watkins, President & CEO of the Community Foundation of North Florida, conduit for Knight Foundation’s support in Tallahassee. “Frenchtown’s KitchenShare program fits that bill.”

The USDA and Knight Foundation awards bring the project contributions by FNIA to more than $750,000. The money is in addition to $500,000 in public dollars that the CRA has committed. Nearly three years after joining the Frenchtown project as a “catalyst” with Knight Creative Communities Institute, Heritage Hub Director Michelle Gomez looks back on those early discussions with a smile.

“A member of our project team said it would cost $1.3 million to do what we we’re dreaming. It seemed an insurmountable sum, but we did it. We did it.” said Gomez. “Now the real work begins.”