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Economic Development News

Sussex County to cook up kitchen incubator

Katie Tabeling

GEORGETOWN – Sussex County is cooking up a kitchen incubator that aims to support the local economy by providing the overhead and support for entrepreneurs to get started.

With $150,000 from Delaware’s current bond bill, the Sussex County Economic Development office will start a state-certified kitchen that would be rented out on a daily or monthly basis. That seed money could be used to build out a kitchen or buy one somewhere in the county.

“Chefs can use this, caterers can use it for food trucks, and even farmers will use it for value-added products,” Sussex County Economic Development Director Bill Pfaff said during a council meeting this week. “This is an advantage to the restaurants because we will be a training ground for future employees … [there is] huge potential for business expansion and business creation, which again down the line will create jobs.”

The final proposal is still being worked out, but Pfaff envisions starting a membership-based program in a 1,500-square-foot area which would be enough room for three different businesses to work at one time, with options to expand. Walk-in refrigerators and freezers would have designated storage spaces for each of the businesses.

The estimated total cost of the project lies between $300,000 and $350,000, and the Economic Development office will soon ask the county for additional funding. The hope is that membership fees could support its operations in the long run.

Delaware could continue to fund it through the bond bill, as it has for other incubator project in the last four years, but Pfaff said that there were no guarantees during the pandemic. This year, the state’s bond allocations include funding for incubators in New Castle County ($200,000), Kent County ($100,000) and Middletown ($50,000).

This project has been in the works for a while, starting in 2019 when Pfaff formed a focus group that included several leaders in the restaurant industry like SoDel Concepts, Dogfish Head and the Delaware Restaurant Association; local representatives like The Counting House and Good Earth Market; and Rep. Ruth Briggs-King (R-Georgetown), who advocated for the state funding.

“Very small businesses, ones that are just starting out, definitely face challenges when it comes to accessing resources and supplies to make that step in-between. This is a perfect way to help those businesses up and running, maybe even making that transition,” said SoDel Marketing Director Nelia Dolan, who sat in on the focus group.

The Sussex County kitchen incubator would also offer services like business planning, marketing, legal and training services through partnerships like the Women’s Business Center, the Small Business Development Center and SCORE.

From her years of experience in the restaurant industry Dolan believes having a designated space to nurture the next generation of chefs and entrepreneurs could be a game changer.

“It’s a constant need to ensure that our restaurant staff is proficient in the latest training. As our company has grown in the last five years and we doubled in sales, we see apprentices move up to sous-chefs and then they move up to chefs,” Dolan said. “Most of the time, the training has to be done in house, and it’s hard to do that when you’re serving more than 300 dinners a night. This would be a tremendous help on that front.”

The Sussex County Economic Development office hopes to start the kitchen incubator by the second quarter of 2021.

By Katie Tabeling


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