[caption id="attachment_228951" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] The Sussex County Kitchen Incubator is slated to start with a partnership with Delaware Technical Community College in the new year. | | PHOTO COURTESY OF UNSPLASH/CA CREATIVE[/caption]
GEORGETOWN – The list of projects derailed by COVID-19 is surely incalculable, but one that has been a long time coming is slated to kick off at Delaware Technical Community Collegeearly in the new year: the Sussex County kitchen incubator.Bill Pfaff, county economic development director, had been working on the program when COVID hit, delaying its initial presentation until August 2020. Even then, COVID surges, supply chain issues and other hurdles have kept the project’s completion just beyond reach. With the recent hiring of veteran chef Jim Richards to run the kitchen, the incubator is ready for its finishing touches and launch in January.Incubators provide startups with low-cost spaces to get their businesses up and running, removing significant up-front and overhead costs from the process until a business can become self-sustaining. Kitchen incubators are a relatively new take on this model.Publicly-funded business incubators were trendy at the turn of the century, but the kitchen incubator is barely a decade old and has come into its own over the last five or so years. Its popularity comes from its potential to reduce failure among food service startups.In addition to nearly half-a-century’s worth of practical experience, Richards was trained at the renowned Culinary Institute of America. He has run and owned restaurants up and down the East Coast. More importantly, he has the wisdom to help get businesses on their feet.Cooking skills are the least-likely reasons for a restaurant to fail. Business management and crushing overhead are the more likely culprits. The kitchen incubators will reduce those pressures by supplying would-be restaurateurs with the equipment to do the work and training.“We’ll discuss their business plan with them. We’ll go over with food costs, labor costs, those types of things,” Richardson said. “We’ll help obtain insurance through some national programs that are designed for incubator kitchens.”Pfaff said that Richardson will run the preponderance of the classes.Food trucks may be the immediate program beneficiaries and likely will make up the bulk of early adapters. Even though much of the food sold is prepared on the trucks, storage and pre-prepped foods (Pfaff used coleslaw as an example) have to be prepared in industrial kitchens.The opportunity to start a food truck or to expand its menu, plus to be able to rent pantry and refrigerator space is something Pfaff believes will appeal to those entrepreneurs immediately. The vision is to attract collaborations as well as startups.“We really want that farm-to-table mentality where people actually use as much local as possible in the growing season,” he said.