Michelle McCabe and Landon Horan of the The Center for Food Equity and Economic Development are working to gain access to underused commercial kitchens in churches to provide budding food entrepreneurs with a place to hone their craft:
Tell us about your organization, if you would.
The Council of Churches is a nonprofit social services organization that’s been in existence since 1945. Traditionally, our programs are related to food access and assisting food pantries and soup kitchens in the greater Bridgeport area. We’re now exploring different ways that we can take this charitable activity and rethink it in terms of economic development.
How are you doing this?
One of our first target areas is looking at church kitchens that are used for community meal programs. Many of them are large, nicely organized and have commercial-grade equipment. The ones that operate as soup kitchens have restaurant licenses already in place. So we worked for the last year to successfully change the city zoning ordinances to allow those church kitchens to be rented by food entrepreneurs.
How did you begin your affiliation with CTNext?
We joined the CTNext team around the end of 2016. We wanted to work with CTNext because we fulfill one of their goals, which is to create shared spaces for entrepreneurs to operate and grow. On one hand, we are similar to other CTNext partners in that we are looking at creating spaces for businesses to incubate in, but for culinary. At the same time, we’re trying to provide those entrepreneurs with the kind of services that CTNext offers to businesses, from business plans to financial forecasting, marketing and all of that. So, for example, if an Entrepreneur-in-Residence were working with a startup in the food business that needed a place to rent, I would hope that we are a connection to that pipeline for them.
Why did you want to become a CTNext partner?
We work really closely with different organizations in Bridgeport and other entrepreneurially like-minded organizations, such as B:hive. They all spoke really highly of the CTNext program, and we thought it was a good opportunity to link up with a highly esteemed organization that really does believe in furthering entrepreneurship in Connecticut. We also like how CTNext took the low-income populations that we work with, people who aren’t seen as potential entrepreneurs, and viewed them as clients. Food entrepreneurship is a really good path for the population that we serve, and we really like how CTNext believes in that.
How do you anticipate that your affiliation with CTNext will allow you to achieve your goals?
Our ultimate goal is to view food and the residents of our area as incredible resources that can contribute to the economic growth of both the city of Bridgeport and the people. Being with CTNext is wonderful because there is a lot of entrepreneurship here in the city among people who often either get overlooked or just don’t have the networking connections that many of us take for granted. CTNext offers a wonderful opportunity for anybody that’s looking to start a new business in Connecticut. And we’re hoping to be a bridge between an underserved population and the resources that can help them develop their businesses and contribute to the financial well-being of the city and also lift themselves and others out of poverty.