Djenaba Johnson-Jones has hosted food business classes and networking events through Hudson Kitchen since starting the business four years ago, but the plan was never just to teach and connect: she wanted to give businesses a place to set up shop, a place to grow, a place to call home.
After a longer-than-anticipated time searching for real estate and building it out, that place is finally here. Hudson Kitchen opened its food incubator and shared commercial kitchen, the only one in North Jersey, on Wednesday.
The 8,000-square-foot space at Kearny Point in Kearny has room for 72 members. Early-stage food companies and entrepreneurs will have access to commercial-grade kitchen equipment, prep stations, and extensive dry, cold, and freezer storage; as well as a co-working space with wifi.
“The tri-state region is filled with talented, ambitious food and beverage entrepreneurs that simply lack the necessary resources to commercially produce their products or scale their businesses,” said Johnson-Jones in a statement. “Combined with the strict regulations that surround in-home food production, this has created a notoriously challenging environment for starting an artisanal food business. Hudson Kitchen is a place that offers not just the necessary kitchen equipment, but also a family of like-minded entrepreneurs that can help these businesses grow.”
Hudson Kitchen works on a membership model. Members pay a flat price for full-time membership, where they have access to the space 24/7; or for part-time membership, geared toward those who work another job during the day, where they have access Monday through Friday from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. and 24 hours on Saturday and Sunday.
Members don’t book time, they come and go as they please. Sharing the space makes it a truly collaborative environment, said Johnson-Jones.
“My goal is for members to work together. It’s the idea that they’re working together, buying from each other, and also providing mentorship to each other,” she said in an interview with NJBIZ.
Hudson Kitchen has signed on a handful of members thus far, including Portioned, a meal delivery service. Meal prep companies have shown a lot of interest because the large space gives them an opportunity to spread out, and shipping is easy through FedEx and UPS.
Johnson-Jones hopes to attract more caterers, bakers and consumer package goods companies. The kitchen, which provides commercial mixers, food processors, blenders and all of the major equipment including traditional ranges, convection ovens, deep fryers, griddles and grills, can host up to 24 companies cooking at the same time.
It’ll take about four weeks for a food start-up to get off the ground after signing on as a member, she estimates: getting their business registered, acquiring a ServSafe food safety manager certification, getting insurance, and bringing their things into the space. But with all the equipment running and ready to go, it’s essentially turn-key.
On Nov. 9, Hudson Kitchen hosted its food business boot camp, its first event in the new space. The one-day class, held quarterly, has been held at Hudson County Community College since January 2017, giving attendees all the information they need to get a food business up and running in New Jersey or New York. At the end of the class, 29 students left Hudson Kitchen with a 75-page handbook filled with actionable advice.
Johnson-Jones has educated over 265 people through her Food Business Bootcamp.
Hudson Kitchen joins more than 200 companies that have established operations at Kearny Point, the $1 billion adaptive reuse of Kearny’s former World War I and World War II shipmaking facility, reinvented as a hub for innovative businesses by developer Hugo Neu Corp. It joins food-related businesses like Bowery Farms, Oishii Farms, Feed Your Soul Bakery and Brooklyn Grange’s garden center.
“Hudson Kitchen is representative of our mission at Kearny Point: providing opportunities for businesses of all sizes to grow,” said Wendy Neu, chief executive of Hugo Neu in a statement. “This entrepreneurial energy helps to fuel the Kearny Point community, and we’re proud to provide an environment in which food production start-ups and other non-traditional operations can thrive.”