If the crowd of several hundred people celebrating the recent formal construction kick-off of the Commissary Downtown Kitchen Incubator at Sibley Square was any indication, the Commissary will soon be a popular addition to a menu of downtown activities already starting to fill out the calendar – Jazz Fest, Red Wings Baseball, Fringe Fest, Winter Fest, St. Patrick’s Day Parade, etc.
Dozens of food vendors, residents, and political and business leaders gave a fresh jolt to the Rochester “under the clock” cliché, as a ribbon-cutting ceremony and speeches gave way to food-tasting, craft beer drinking, and music throughout the Sibley Square Atrium.
“Bringing together a disparate group of designers is difficult enough, and then add in the goal of creating a warm, inviting, and approachable, one-of-a-kind performance kitchen….well you can appreciate the challenge and why we are so pleased with the results,” said HUNT Project Architect Michael Trapanovski, AIA. “Christine Vargas, Linda Roth, Joe Burkhardt, and the Takatchs of Architectura each appreciated the enormous significance of working in the Sibley Square Complex, and we got their ‘A-Games’. As far as design highlights, the architectural and sculptural, cooking-hood screen really brought to life the intersection of the Commissary’s ultimately utilitarian program and the Sibley Building’s art deco lineage”.
The palpable upbeat and festive vibe was, according to observers, “exactly what we imagined…” would accompany the Commissary initiatives equally tangible culinary and economic benefits.
Located at the Main and Clinton Street edge of the complex, the food business incubator and shared kitchen facility will involve the transformation of 6,500 square-feet of space inside the former department store into a commercial grade kitchen facility where food entrepreneurs can launch and grow their businesses. Members will be able to rent time in the kitchen on an hourly basis and gain access to food industry workshops, mentoring, training, and business support services. Commissary officials estimate that more than half of their member businesses will be women owned and more than a third will be minority owned. In fact, more than 150 local food entrepreneurs have already expressed interest in the projects shared kitchen and incubation services.
The NYS Empire State Development is assisting The Commissary project through a $213,500 Capital Grant. The total project cost is a little more than $2 million. The Commissary is expected to open in the Spring of 2020. The only kitchen incubator facility in Upstate New York, it is expected to house about 30 businesses and create at least 60 jobs in the first year of operation.
"The Commissary food business incubator adds to the entrepreneurial energy of Rochester’s Downtown Innovation Zone, which is already home to many talented tech companies that are creating good-paying jobs and further building the Finger Lakes economy,” said Empire State Development Acting Commissioner and President & CEO-designate Eric Gertler.
The Rochester Downtown Development Corp. (RDDC) is the project lead and created a Single Member LLC to hold The Commissary, both corporations share RDDC's 501(c)(3) status. The development of this project is made possible thanks to RDDC partners who are providing a variety of assets including funding, professional services, and donations of their expertise, services, and equipment.
Laura Fox O’Sullivan, President of the Commissary and RDDC Vice President, says the idea is to provide a low-cost way for food entrepreneurs to grow their business.
“Having your own commercial kitchen is very expensive, it’s a very high barrier to entry for people who are looking to start a food business, and what The Commissary will do is that it will provide a low-cost, shared, kitchen facility that is rented by the hour; you’re not signing a long-term lease, it is just a kitchen for when you need it," Fox O'Sullivan said.
“What was most striking about HUNT Engineers & Architect’s efforts was their commitment to every aspect of the process", according to Sullivan. "It included assisting with researching and explaining the various funding mechanisms, continued with lease negotiations, and then, naturally, could be felt all the way through design and construction administration. And, like all our partners, they generously contributed time and creativity to areas well beyond their purview.”
The Commissary expects to spur the creation of startups including packaged food and beverage manufacturers, restaurants, bakeries, caterers, food trucks, virtual restaurants and help legitimize underground food businesses by reducing the otherwise high cost of creating a licensed commercial kitchen. It will also house a Performance Kitchen where startups can promote and sell their products to the public, hold food events, and host cooking classes.
Kitchen incubators provide the certified commercial kitchen and equipment necessary to grow a legal food business. Instead of taking on the risk of investing in expensive commercial equipment, members of The Commissary will be able to rent a kitchen station on an hourly basis - only when they need it.
"WinnCompanies is thrilled to welcome the Commissary Kitchen Incubator to Sibley Square. Strong partnerships with the business community and state and city officials continue to advance the revitalization of downtown Rochester” said Gilbert Winn, CEO, WinnCompanies.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said, “The Rochester Commissary will be an excellent addition to Downtown Rochester. Not only will this facility help us create jobs all across our region and add to the growing vibrancy of the Sibley Building and our city, it will give our residents an opportunity to fulfill their dreams to start businesses in the food industry,” said Mayor Warren. “I want to thank the many partners at the federal, state and local levels who made this project possible. Together, we are creating more jobs, safer and more vibrant neighborhoods and better educational opportunities for our citizens.”
Partners include: U.S. Economic Development Administration, NYS Empire State Development, Rochester Economic Development Corporation, Rochester Gas & Electric, Palmer Food Services, WinnDevelopment, City of Rochester, Christine Vargas & Vargas Associates, HUNT E|A|S, FL Gorman & Harris Beach PLLC, Nixon Peabody LLP, M/E Engineering, Link2Hospitality, Mission Commercial Realty, Karen Altman & Dorrance Lamb, and Roth Consulting Group.