Demand to Join Sherman Park Food Business Incubator Grows | WUWM 89.7 FM

Demand to Join Sherman Park Food Business Incubator Grows |  WUWM 89.7 FM

Kitchen UpStart in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee provides support for aspiring low-to-moderate income food entrepreneurs. It has a licensed kitchen space, equipment, and access to mentors who have had success in starting food trucks, stores, or restaurants.

The 1,300 square feet of shared kitchen space, which is available for rent 24/7, opened in June 2020 just at the start of the pandemic. It was an uncertain time in the restaurant industry.

The organizers therefore had to adapt, explains Leo Ries of PRISM Economic Development Corporation. PRISM was born from a Parklawn Assembly of God initiative to increase economic growth in Sherman Park.

“And we pivoted [during the pandemic] and started doing community meal programs for people who are homebound and food insecure,” says Ries. “And we have already made more than 100,000 meals. And we continue to make meals, as you know, for people in need.

Ries says the free lunch program started on “a wing and a prayer,” relying on charitable contributions. Then last year, the kitchen received a block community grant of $200,000 from the city. He says it’s been helpful, but there’s a lot of need, and since it costs them $10 to produce a meal, the money didn’t last that long.

“That’s what I’m juggling right now is trying to make sure we don’t run out of money so we can continue the meal program, at least on a modest level, depending on the funds available for this,” Ries said.

UpStart took over the community meals program from Caitlin Cullen of the now-closed Tandem restaurant, which was a few miles away on Fond du Lac Avenue in Lindsay Heights.

READ: Milwaukee’s Tandem Restaurant Adapts to Meet Community Needs During Pandemic

It’s a win-win, the program helps the community, and then the kitchen can hire young entrepreneurs to prepare the meals. Entrepreneurs like Andren Jett and Shana Gray of Gray Jett Cafe on the northwest side.

Shana Gray (L) and Andren Jett (R) with some of their vegan tacos at Upstart Kitchen.

Collaborating with Jett and Gray means bringing vegan delights to the public.

“We have a street taco, avocados, lemons, and we have a variety of different salsas,” Jett describes of a takeout box they make at UpStart. “And the meat is made up of lentils, black beans, chickpeas and mushrooms to make it taste more or less like ground beef.”

Jett and Gray are particularly proud of their vegan burgers, vegan honey-spiced chicken sandwiches, and Buddha bowls.

“Our goal is to bring, especially like the inner cities of certain communities – they’re undervalued when it comes to healthy eating, our thing is to put restaurants in certain areas of this country, to make sure that everything the world is empowered and blessed with nutrition and has access to nutrition,” says Jett.

WUWM first reported on UpStart in August 2019, when Parklawn Assembly of God and PRISM went public with the effort. Organizers have appealed to chefs and caterers who dream of starting or expanding their food business.

READ: Upstart Kitchen hopes to boost Milwaukee food entrepreneurs

Big draws include the fact that people can rent licensed kitchen space, and also get help with things like licensing, marketing, budgeting, and financing, not to mention getting access to a cargo. of cool kitchen equipment.

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Tomira White, an entrepreneur who opens Delicious Bites in Wauwatosa, along with some of her baked goods and salads.

Michael Feker is chef and restaurateur at Il MITO Trattoria e Enoteca. He oversees the meal schedule and says it’s “like being a kid in a candy store” when he’s in the kitchen.

“We have big smokers, we have huge ovens and convection ovens that we can cook large quantities, but at the same time you can do small cooking so that our contractors don’t have to cook a lot of food if they don’t have the clientele for it,” Feker explains. “Like this blender. It’s an 80-gallon blender. And that’s very, very rare in regular kitchens, at unless you have a bakery.

Tomira White runs delicious bites. These are take-out wraps, salads and baked goods. It opens a point of sale on North Avenue in Wauwatosa. White has rented space in UpStart since it opened and will continue to do so.

“Our [new Wauwatosa] the space is retail so there is no full kitchen. So we always rely on UpStart for baking, especially when we have this baby here who bakes 480 cookies in 10 minutes like it’s liquid gold,” she explains.

White says the oven will “definitely help with production with the new space because we’re going to need it.”

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Nesha Beamon of Pound 4 Pound Cakes by Nesha works with restaurants that serve her a pound cake with berries and cream.

White says her business is focused on a healthy mix – cookies but also salad and wraps. “You have to have a balance,” she says.

Ries of PRISM says there are four types of entrepreneurs at UpStart: caterers, food producers, food truck operators and packagers. Some are growing in ways you would expect: opening cafes and food trucks and also catering events. Others are getting creative, selling their pound cake to restaurants or packing their potato chips there after a big deal breaker with the Fiserv Forum.

Ries says there are currently 310 people on the waiting list for spots.