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Since officially launching in January 2022, the Wilmington Kitchen Collective, a business development program for culinary entrepreneurs, has expanded to two kitchens — one at Grace Church, one at First and Central Church.
The program can accommodate 15 small food businesses, with a current roster including lunch trucks, apiaries, packaged foods and bakeries.
The food industry has lots of requirements, reviews and inspections, for good reason. But that can be a hindrance for small businesses just starting out in programs like the Collective, which is run by Riverfront Church, Wilmington Alliance and Grace Church.
Thus, the space is a lifesaver for food trucks, which, by law, must have access to commissary kitchens. These are commercial kitchens outside the truck where the owner can wash equipment, prep foods, and replace gray water with fresh water for washing hands on the truck.
Before they can be accepted to the Collective, entrepreneurs need a Delaware business license, then they need to fill out an application with the health department for a local inspection. Not a quick process, but with a waiting list of around 70, it’s one a lot of aspiring business owners are willing to go through.
One of those entrepreneurs is Antinette Watson, whose business, The Stand DE, is a mobile business specializing in grilled food.
“The reason why I found The Stand was because I really wanted to create opportunities for young people in my community,” Watson told Technical.ly. “I was like, ‘What can I do that I’m good at and that comes natural?’”
I’m taking advantage of the training and everything that they offer for management, because my background is not in food services.Antinette Watson The Stand DE
While her professional background is in social work, Watson spent her teen years working at a family-owned food business in Wilmington.
“I believe working there kept me out of trouble,” she said. “I really wanted to create that same opportunity for teens in our community, and that’s how I started this. We started in 2018 with a hotdog cart, just one, and now we have a hotdog cart and a trailer, and we just plan to expand.”
Watson primarily hires local teens, but she’s open to hiring anyone who needs work — and she’s looking for new employees now, as The Stand gears up as one of two Collective businesses (along with Hybrid Bakery) that will be food vendors at Wilmo Rock Circus on Feb. 18.
“My network has definitely transformed being in the program,” Watson said. “I’m utilizing the kitchen more and having that expand on our kitchen concept. I’m taking advantage of the training and everything that they offer for management, because my background is not in food services. The Collective has really exposed me to all that I can do within the industry, and all the opportunities that I can create for people in the industry.”
One of the people behind the opportunities, along with executive director and pastor Chelsea Spires, is project manager Katie LeCocq. She sees the need for more commercial kitchen space for small businesses up close.
In some cases, LeCocq said, lack of access to a commercial kitchen is the only thing holding an entrepreneur back.
“I’m always searching for other kitchens,” she said. “I know that it’s such a need and we don’t need to be a monopoly. I would rather we didn’t have to be here and there be enough space for everyone.”
Once an entrepreneur is in the program, durations vary, especially since trucks need the kitchen to remain legal. LeCocq encourages interested food entrepreneurs to apply and start the process regardless, so they’re on the list as kitchen space potentially expands.
You can find a list of Collective entrepreneurs on its website, along with where to find them on social media. On Thursdays starting May 4, the Collective will restart its seasonal weekly vending events in the Grace Church parking lot.
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