Sussex kitchen incubator plans laid out

GEORGETOWN — Sussex County’s economic development office is cooking up a food-for-thought option geared to stimulate and boost local business.

By the second quarter of 2021, the game plan is to have in place a kitchen incubator — a state licensed/certified kitchen that would offer rental space by the day, week or even month, according to Sussex County Economic Development director Bill Pfaff.

Bill Pfaff

Potential clientele — preferably through membership — would span the spectrum, including chefs, caterers, food trucks and farmers for value-added products.

“We also feel part of the model is you are going to need to become a member of the business incubator,” Mr. Pfaff said in a presentation at Tuesday’s County Council meeting.

Seed money — $150,000 is included in the current state bond bill — is earmarked for the incubator project.

“We’ve got $150,000 to start with,” said Mr. Pfaff. “My next meeting with the council, we will share a budget, and that budget will lay out exactly what the cash needs are. Everybody at this point is volunteering. So, I envision at the end of the day, the $150,000 will be used to help build out a kitchen if it needs to be built out. If there is an existing kitchen that is available, it could be used to help; you could purchase it.”

As present, no existing kitchen is on the radar screen.

“That is still a work in progress. There may be commercial kitchens in the next six months that might come available. So, we don’t want to put any options off the table. If there is not something we can work with, then we will build it,” said Mr. Pfaff. “We’ve already explored the idea and looked at potential locations around the county, and we really feel it needs to be centrally located. But we haven’t been able to really put our finger on anything at this point in time.”

The initial plan is to start small, a 1,500-square-foot facility, with three stations that could accommodate three different businesses working at the same time.

Questioned by County Councilman Samuel Wilson Jr. about the overall project and total cost, Mr. Pfaff estimated the ballpark figure at $300,000-$350,000.

“You mentioned it is going to start out relatively small, like 1,500 square feet. The project will be scalable, so you would be able to expand,” said County Councilman John Rieley. “I mean $150,000 sounds like a good chunk of money, but when you start buying commercial equipment, you can burn through that pretty quickly.”

In 2019, Mr. Pfaff formed a focus group to look at developing a kitchen incubator in Sussex County.

An advisory group consists of two representatives from Dogfish Head and SoDel Concepts, one each from the Backyard Restaurant, the Good Earth Market, The Counting House and Backyard Jellies and Jams, along with individuals from the Delaware Division of Public Health, the Delaware Restaurant Association and state Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown.

In addition to Sussex County, state bond bill allocations include funding for business incubator initiatives in New Castle County ($200,000), Kent County ($100,000) and Middletown ($50,000).

Mr. Pfaff noted that Kent County is already operating a business incubator.

“What we found out along the way is all these other counties and chambers have been getting this money from the bond bill for about the last three to four years. We were sort of out of the loop here in Sussex County,” said Mr. Pfaff. “We hope that this money from the state will continue to come through like it has for the other incubators up and down the state. There is never a guarantee for that, especially under the current conditions.”

Through its channel partners, the proposed incubator will offer services such as business planning, training, marketing, legal and distribution. Among the partners mentioned by Mr. Pfaff were the Small Business Development Center, SCORE and the Women’s Business Center.

“They will work directly in our incubator to give the technical assistance that these businesses need in order to be productive,” he said.

Mr. Pfaff says the initiative offers “huge potential for business expansion and business creation, which again down the line will create jobs.”

Councilman Rieley inquired about plans for incubator operation.

“It is going to take someone on a daily basis to run the kitchen,” said Mr. Pfaff. “So, what we’re hoping is we can find someone in the marketing arena, someone that is in the marketing business, that is looking for a space that we could potentially give them a space in the kitchen incubator and in return, … they will actually help us manage that kitchen, as well as provide services from a marketing standpoint.”

“Would this operation be self-supporting at some point?” Councilman Rieley asked.

“I think along the way, that is the way we want to structure it,” said Mr. Pfaff. “Again, that is why we were thinking about going through the membership. The members at the end of the day help it be self-supporting.”