How ‘Incubation’ kitchens are helping food entrepreneurs affordably scale their businesses

Eastern Market in Detroit is the oldest and largest public market in the country. It runs 52 weeks a year, draws nearly 40,000 visitors every week, hosts a seasonal Tuesday retail market and a Sunday artisans’ market, and its night wholesale market moves about $20 million worth of wholesale produce seasonally. 

While those statistics are eye-catching, many people don’t realize what else Eastern Market offers, such as the Detroit Kitchen Connect. 

“Eastern Market Partnership has a shared-use commercial kitchen available for rent for food businesses, special events, and cooking/culinary education,” explains Christine Quane, former director of food programming for Eastern Market (who left the company in November 2023). “We also lead a greater network of commercial kitchens that are located in Detroit, Oak Park, Berkley, Royal Oak, Rochester, Ypsilanti, Inkster, and Dearborn.”

The Eastern Market program is among several programs in Michigan helping food entrepreneurs to start, develop and scale their fledgling businesses. Growing Hope has taken on that effort in Ypsilanti, while Can-Do Kalamazoo is doing the same in Southwest Michigan.

Helping local entrepreneurs 

The kitchen at Eastern Market is an “incubation kitchen,” which means that entrepreneurs have three years to grow and scale their businesses before deciding if they are going to move on to their own leased or owned space, or if they plan to work with a co-packer. If an entrepreneur wishes to maintain its current size and scale, it would then need to move to a different commercial kitchen after those three years.

Eastern Market Partnership also has “accelerator space” available for food entrepreneurs. 

“We have five individual food production suites that are available to lease at a subsidized rent that scales toward market rate over a five-year period,” says Quane. “These spaces have hoods and three compartment sinks, but refrigeration and all other equipment is the responsibility of the food entrepreneur.”

The incubator and shared-use commercial kitchen were finished in 2015 with the intent to provide food-safe, affordable space for food entrepreneurs to scale their businesses and to provide a space for special events and culinary education. The accelerator was finished in 2021 with the goal of providing affordable, dedicated production space for scaling food businesses.
Ypsilanti-based Growing Hope offers a licensed incubator kitchen for startup food entrepreneurs.
“I was approached by Eastern Market in 2017 about the incubator space and was super-excited by the opportunity,” says Tara Grey, founder of Gus & Grey Jams. “It was very important to me to make Gus & Grey a Detroit brand, which means it needed to be in the city (not just using the name), and Eastern Market was always my dream location. It's really great to have them as a resource, and they have been stupendous to work with. It's amazing to have 24/7 access to my own kitchen and not have a shared space.”

Realizing a dream

Grey has learned much from Eastern Market’s program, from scaling to creating vision to harnessing the drive. 

“Owning a small business, especially a food-based business, is not for the faint of heart,” Grey shares. “The hustle is real—and it never stops. I have built a lot of relationships along the way, and it has been a true blessing to have people want to help if I am in a pinch, or feeling completely lost.”

Grey’s experience has been “amazing,” and she is excited for what the future holds for her business and others that join Eastern Market’s program.

“The ability to scale and grow with this space has been just incredible,” Grey says. “For a long time, I was also self-delivering, and now I have two distributors and storage space for pallets. The people that I am still meeting through Eastern Market are great, and they have a great model for other towns/cities to follow.”

As the small businesses they help continue to grow, Eastern Market is also looking toward the future. 

“Our goals are to continue to find new markets for our farm and food business partners, to reach more ways to address food access in the city, to provide as much opportunity to as many food businesses as possible,” Quane says.

Growing with help and hope

Another organization helping food entrepreneurs and businesses to learn and grow is Growing Hope. Growing Hope also focuses on food system development and supporting food-related businesses as they get up and running with minimal barriers.
This nonprofit organization focuses on school garden development throughout Ypsilanti, fostering an equitable and sustainable local food system where all people are empowered to grow, sell, buy, prepare, and eat nourishing food. 

Amanda Edmonds founded Growing Hope while she was in graduate school in 2003, and the primary focus then was on school garden development at Perry Early Learning Center. Since then, Growing Hope has expanded into the downtown Ypsilanti Farmers Market, the Depot Town Farmers Market, the Growing Hope Center, the Urban Farm, and the Ypsilanti Farmers MarketPlace with the Growing Hope Incubator Kitchen.

“Growing Hope programs are transformative, educational, inclusive, and are created and delivered through a lens of racial equity,” says Julius Buzzard, Growing Hope’s executive director. “We prioritize serving populations that have the greatest barriers to accessing fresh and affordable food, and our programs empower participants to make eating and purchasing decisions that meet their personal wellness goals. Our programs enable local growers and food businesses to participate in and benefit from a thriving local food system.”

A program for anything

Some of those programs include:
  • Farm and gardens: Supporting people in growing, preparing, and eating nourishing food through hands-on educational opportunities at the Urban Farm and in the community. 
  • Youth and schools: Educating K-12 youth in schools, in the community, and at the Urban Farm about growing and preparing fresh food. They offer a teen leadership training program and support the Farm to School program in the Ypsilanti School District. 
  • Farmers markets: Increasing access to fresh, affordable food by managing two in-person Ypsilanti Farmers Markets and the Ypsilanti Online Farmers Market. These markets prioritize food assistance programs and healthy food education.
  • Food entrepreneurship: Growing local economic opportunities by operating a licensed incubator kitchen and offering training and business support services for farmers and startup food entrepreneurs. 
“Our rooting in the Ypsilanti community continues to deepen as we create healthy and sustainable local food systems that positively impact households, communities, and our economy,” Buzzard explains. “Growing Hope began with the vision of using community and school gardens, and the education they provide, as vehicles for positive social, economic, environmental, and neighborhood change. Recognizing that food insecurity is a key issue for many in the Ypsilanti area, we’ve continuously expanded and evaluated the ways Growing Hope increases access to and education around healthy food. Our work now uses food justice and equity as central tenets as we explore ways of partnering with our neighbors in an effort to establish a more equitable and just community.”

Growing Hope continues to look forward toward advocacy, education, and expansion. It started an online marketplace to increase market availability for growers and decrease food waste, it is working toward relaunching the Indoor Ypsi Farmers Market, refining its sliding scale CSA, building a tool lending library, and increasing the reach of its youth and teen programming. 

Building a business with a can-do attitude

In the mid-2000s, another Michigander realized that her area didn’t have a place where others could make food legally in order to sell it. Lucy Dilley, founder of Can-Do Kalamazoo, (then known as Can-Do Kitchen) was heavily involved in community food and gardening as part of what she calls a “strong local food movement in the area,” but was disappointed by the local resources available to help new businesses develop, package, and sell their food products. So, she created it. 

“I graduated from Western Michigan University with an environmental studies and earth science degree and got into local food for environmental and social justice reasons,” Dilley explains. “I like to get things started that aren’t there. It’s difficult, but also lots of fun and very rewarding. I’m still an environmentalist and local food advocate at heart, and am also fueled by anti-racism because we need our community to be equitable.”

Can-Do Kalamazoo is a nonprofit organization that features a food business incubator kitchen and program for budding and scaling food businesses. It is now also a collaborative hub for entrepreneurs to connect with the many resources and sources of support in the Kalamazoo area. 
Sheena Foster, of Can-Do Kalamazoo, speaks as Lindsay Broveleit, from Newhall Klein (now Matato), looks on.
Can-Do is committed to a more equitable and accessible path to business success for all of Kalamazoo’s entrepreneurs. It is focused on not only providing space and resources for entrepreneurs to make their food products, but also the business tools and information to help them learn, grow, and succeed. Thanks to the community’s small business support services, funders, and entrepreneurs, Can-Do Kalamazoo has transformed into a highly collaborative, strategic business incubator and enterprise hub. 

Thanks to new demand, its incubator space is growing and moving. The new location will include larger rentable kitchen spaces, more storage, coworking spaces with access to conference and meeting rooms, an event space, a classroom, and private offices. 

“We’re growing along with our entrepreneurs,” Dilley says. “So we understand the challenges they are going through as they work on growing their businesses, building capacity, and accessing funding.” 

When Can-Do Kalamazoo’s new building is complete, it will offer membership tiers to provide access to different levels of amenities and benefits. The coworking spaces and private offices will be a place for entrepreneurs and business owners to learn together, work in a dynamic environment, and build important connections. 

Expanding alongside their entrepreneurs

The Can-Do Kalamazoo team has expanded to focus its energy into developing partnerships to help entrepreneurs chart a path with Can-Do, take advantage of the resources provided, and graduate to their next business stage.  

“There is unlimited opportunity with our new hub,” Dilley explains. “It will bring together the community.”
Julie Arch, a previous Can-Do Kalamazoo member, makes pasta.
Their main program, Can-Do Camp, is a 16-week group startup process where budding entrepreneurs will learn all the necessary requirements and best practices for starting a business or taking a new business to a more commercial level. The program has been running twice a year for six years. 

“We connect you to the right people in your industry and set you up for success with one-on-one meetings, business planning, and startup courses,” says Sheena Foster, coordinator of the program. 

While Can-Do Camp is an opportunity for budding entrepreneurs, it also allows local leaders and experts to teach and share their lessons learned and knowledge with others navigating similar trials. 

The newest offering is an online community and resource hub called Can-Do Navigator. It will streamline the intake process so that entrepreneurs have access to resources without having to wonder where they should go next. It also provides a community where entrepreneurs can support each other and share resources. Can-Do Navigator is free to join and will offer many free courses as well as more advanced courses. It is currently in the beta phase, being used by some current Can-Do clients.  

All around the state of Michigan, organizations like Eastern Market, Growing Hope, and Can-Do Kalamazoo are educating, supporting, and helping small food businesses realize their entrepreneurial goals with local tools, resources, and experts.

Kelsey Sanders is a freelance writer and editor based in Norton Shores. When she's not working with words on paper, she owns and operates the wellness company, ThriveWell, which focuses on individuals' and organizations' health, particularly small daily habit changes that create long-term wellness. Or, she's taking pictures of her sleeping one-eyed rescue dog.

Photos courtesy of Growing Hope and Can-Do Kalamazoo. 

This story is part of a series that explores access, equity, and sustainability through Good Food in Michigan’s thriving food economy. This work is made possible by Michigan Good Food and is supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
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