NKY incubator kitchens fuel food business dreams

Posted at 9:00 AM, Mar 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-25 09:00:39-04

Findlay Market just opened its Incubator Kitchen on Wednesday, but local entrepreneurs have been using the NKY Incubator Kitchen's equipment and resources to get their food dreams cooking (pun intended) since 2013.

The NKY Incubator Kitchen, which opened in 2013, is the brainchild of Rachel DesRochers, founder of Covington-based vegan graham cracker business Grateful Grahams. When initially growing Grateful Grahams, DesRochers sought out a shared kitchen space in favor of a brick-and-mortar store.

“This community was ready for this type of co-sharing kitchen -- we just needed the right space,” she said.

She found the space she needed in the Senior Services of Northern Kentucky’s 5,000-square-foot basement kitchen, which is home to about a dozen food businesses. One such entrepreneur is Mavis Linnemann-Clark, owner of Made By Mavis artisan jams and the chef behind Delish Dish Catering, who was there when DesRochers opened the NKY Incubator Kitchen’s doors. 

“At the time, I was a one-woman operation but needed commercial space,” Linnemann-Clark said. “We are now the largest renter at the kitchen, renting six days a week and employing 20 full-time and part-time workers in culinary, administration, sales and marketing.” 

Linnemann-Clark’s story of needing space is familiar to the other food entrepreneurs that work out of both the NKY Incubator Kitchen and the Hatchery, a micro-kitchen that DesRochers opened in Newport in February.

Simple Roots Flourish 

Kate Nordyke’s idea for Evergreen Foods vegan zucchini bread started simply, with a bumper crop of zucchini at NKY Incubator Kitchen, but has grown to be much more.

“Evergreen is vehemently committed to serving the greater community,” Nordyke said, “and all sales from this product are donated to our nonprofit learning center (Evergreen Holistic Learning Center and Urban Farm) for the purpose of providing unique educational outreach opportunities to inner-city students.”  

The Incubator Kitchen is also home to a longstanding Northern Kentucky favorite, Russo's Ravioli. Fifth-generation pasta makers produce this homemade ravioli, all derived from the original recipe from Forte's Spaghetti House in Newport during the 1940s.

“My Grandma Russo and her family continued making the pasta throughout the years, (long) after the close of the restaurant,” said Diane Russo Jennings, owner of Russo’s Ravioli.  

Smaller Space, Same Dreams 

Smaller than the Incubator Kitchen, the Hatchery is a space that is easily accessible to a new food entrepreneur.

“(The Hatchery) is literally one step up from working out of your house,” DesRochers said. “There wasn’t the intimidation factor of working in a big commercial kitchen right away.”

Debbie Coulter, one of the Hatchery’s first businesses, is chef and owner of Passion in my Pans, a new gourmet quiche business. Coulter also offers in-home cooking demonstrations and custom menu creations.

“I had a passion for making quiche and selling it locally but I needed more space; that’s where Rachel and the Hatchery came in,” Coulter said.

Another one-man operation working out of the Hatchery is Bay Bay Puree. Owner David P. Adam and his wife had always fed their children homemade, preservative-free baby food. After their third child came along, they decided to pursue their passion as a business. Knowing what goes into each single-ingredient batch was key for Adam.

“Bay Bay Puree contains fresh fruits and vegetables, local whenever possible, which are immediately whipped into a delicious smooth puree and frozen into 1-ounce cubes,” he said.

A commitment to health prompted other entrepreneurs to open their businesses as well. Grass-Fed Gourmet, another business working out of the Hatchery, arose out of owner Debbie Moll’s interest in finding a nutritional answer to a health challenge.

“After I had my kids I was physically depleted, so I dove deep into nutrition to try to heal myself,” Moll said. “One of the things I learned was how important healthy fats are.”

The knowledge led Moll and her twin sister, Maria Schade, to create CocoGhee, a spread made from coconut oil and ghee (clarified butter). They create a variety of flavors including cinnamon honey, vanilla cardamom or garlic and salt.  

More Than Just Food 

The kitchens aren’t used only to prepare food; at the Incubator Kitchen’s Shaw Black Farm, Courtney Shaw and her husband focus on growing threatened native Kentucky wild plants, such as American ginseng and goldenseal on their farm.

“We chose American Ginseng specifically because the native wild populations of this plant are shrinking,” Shaw said. With their wild ginseng, they create a ginseng tincture, an herbal supplement intended for immune system and energy support.

The Incubator Kitchen also hosts monthly “Kitchen Convos,” to serve the new food entrepreneurs, where three panelists tackle concerns of small food businesses: packaging, design, manufacturing, printing, chefs and shopping local.

“What better way to build community than food?” DesRochers said. “An incubator kitchen helps people achieve their dreams while working together.”