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Innovation & Job News

Culinary incubator Union Kitchen nears capacity, looks to expand

Union Kitchen, the incubator space for District culinary entrepreneurs, is a year old and is almost at capacity. According to cofounder Jonas Singer, nearly 60 food businesses now call Union Kitchen (UK) home, either on a full- or part-time basis. Singer and cofounder Cullen Gilchrist now have a full-time staff of nine, which includes a facilities management team and a catering company, and the pair is looking to open a second location in the future.
"We're getting closer to being at capacity," Singer says. "Every month, we have a little turnover," which allows new entrepreneurs to stake their claim in the kitchen. Several of UK's original members have left the incubator to open their own storefronts. Curbside Cupcakes now operates Curbside Café at 15th and C in SE, TaKorean will be opening a restaurant in Navy Yard in 2014 and District Doughnut is heading to Barracks Row in the spring. Singer says another company is going to City Center, but he isn't naming names.
In addition, Singer says, "I know of four to six businesses that are looking for storefronts...A lot will stay [at UK] for a while. The question is, how long can we keep them?" 
He says he is exploring other membership options to keep up with growing demand. Full-time membership at UK runs $1,000 per month; a "nights and weekends" membership is $800 per month. "It's not the cheapest thing in the world," Singer says, "but it's a great value." In addition to access to a stocked commercial kitchen and storage space, members can purchase supplies collectively and can sell collectively to markets. UK also provides vendor contacts and branding and marketing services.
When UK launched, it entered into a partnership with the city to help hire and place residents through the D.C. Department of Employment Services and Project Empowerment (PE). "We ourselves have hired and placed 16 people," Singer says. "Four of our full-time employees are PE grads. They are off the PE payroll and on our payroll. Two others are still on the PE payroll. We've helped 10 others secure jobs. We're strong advocates for the program."
In the future, UK hopes to expand to a second location. "We're exploring other locations," Singer says. "We've been looking. There's not much out there, in terms of the industrial manufacturing space we need. We've found a couple of prospects."

Read more articles by Allyson Jacob.

Allyson Jacob is a writer originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the Innovation and Job News editor for Elevation DC. Her work has been featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati CityBeat. Have a tip about a small business or start-up making waves inside the Beltway? Tell her here.
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