Food incubator for entrepreneurs, producers to fire up Edmonton’s local food scene

The Public food incubator will be located in a warehouse near 107 Street and 106 Avenue. Credit: Twitter/David Shepherd

Councillors sitting on Edmonton’s executive committee have approved $600,000 for The Public, a collaborative commercial kitchen warehouse in Central MacDougall.

The goal is to help entrepreneurs who want to break into the food industry.

“This is a really exciting opportunity to help support and grow the food scene and food producers and food value added,” Mayor Don Iveson said.

“As an agricultural producing region, we see — and the mayors around us together see — phenomenal economic potential for export-based growth and for great lifestyle and tourism and all things that will be good for the economy and create jobs out of stuff we already produce here.

“I think it’s part of a larger economic strategy to leverage food more effectively as well as creating a great gathering space not only for entrepreneurs but people interested in food in our city,” Iveson said.

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The mayor says, in terms of start-ups and innovation, Edmonton has more to offer than just tech and artificial intelligence.

“The folks involved in this concept have done a lot of work with our farmers’ market community,” Iveson said. “People love having those kinds of products to choose from.

“Whatever it is they’re producing — whether it’s the types of things you’d find at a farmers’ market or ultimately something you’ll see in supermarkets, hopefully beyond the Edmonton market — I’m just excited to see what our culinary creators can come up with.”

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Kirsta Franke, founder and director of The Public, says the whole $3-million project depends on grants and funding from other levels of government. But once the warehouse — built in the 1950s as a van manufacturing warehouse — is ready, the incubator will launch this spring.

“It’s a really beautiful old brick building, industrial bones, big ceilings and it has all the distribution in the back of the building that we really need to ensure products get to market,” Franke said. “It’s about a 70,000-square-foot building. We’re taking up just the northern corner — about 15,000 square feet to start — and we’ll look to expand as all the businesses succeed.”

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Eventually, the building will house 13 commercial kitchens used collaboratively to develop new food products. The Public will offer dry, cold and frozen storage, event space, office space, accounting support and training. It also offers storefront access so vendors can sell their wares somewhere other than farmers’ markets.

“They want to scale their capacity. They want to grow up,” Franke said.

“They want to essentially be able to provide their products to a retail environment — Save on Foods, Sobeys, what have you — and we want to make that easy for them.

“We want to help them grow their inventory. We want to help them fulfill orders and distributions, connect them to distributors who are going to probably get their products to market faster than we can. And then they can actually be showcased on Alberta shelves.”

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Franke said the warehouse could be operational as early as May.

“We’re really, really committed to working with this schedule there because business, quite frankly, needed this yesterday.

“We want to ensure that we’re working with the right partners to make this happen, which we are. We have everything lined up to essentially push the go button today, start and essentially get hammers in hand.”

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Councillor Michael Walters says this project makes perfect sense for the Edmonton region.

“As much as we’ve been ahead of the game in terms of local food culture, celebrating local food [and] promoting community gardens, working with our regional neighbours to preserve ag land permanently has been a little behind when it comes to this kind of economic incubator,” he said.

“This is a small contribution to make for the city, in my view, to help local businesses grow, be successful, create jobs and provide a really dynamic, excellent vibe in a part of Edmonton that is up and coming.”

WATCH BELOW (May 11, 2015): Culinary entrepreneurs in North Vancouver are about to get a big leg up getting their start-ups off the ground, thanks to a new ‘food incubator’ in the city’s Harbourside neighbourhood. Chris Jerome from Hawkers Market talks to Aaron MacArthur about his new project.

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