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Business ideas grow at HOPE kitchen

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If you ever dreamed about starting your own catering business, but did not know where to begin — or where to do the cooking — look no further than St. Albans, where a non-profit group is willing to help anyone serious about starting a small food-based business.

The Help Other Pursue Enterprise Kitchen Incubator runs the only commercial kitchen in Queens, and one of the nation’s few kitchen incubators — a facility offering guidance on how to start a successful small food business.

The 900-square-foot kitchen offers a place to legally cook food for others because selling food you cooked at home is illegal. It also offers consultants who know how to navigate city, state, and federal regulations on food production and sale.

The project was conceived by La Amistad Economic Development Corporation, founded by the St. Albans Congregational Church and housed next door the church in the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center, 172-12 Linden Blvd.

The ultimate goal of the kitchen incubator is to help small-business owners become successful enough to open their own restaurants and employ other members of the community.

The concept ties into the name of the corporation — La Amistad — the slave revolt aboard a Spanish ship in 1839 that was supported by the Congregationalists.

The leader of the revolt, Sengbe Pieh, said: “All we want is to make us free.” Likewise, the kitchen incubator wants to make people economically free.

“Economic freedom means you can create your own opportunit­ies,” said Elfrida Scott, the chief executive officer of La Amistad. “America is fueled by small businesses. Every new business makes the community stronger.”

The kitchen aims to create jobs for people who might otherwise have difficulties because they are not highly educated, Scott said.

Scott used mothers on welfare as an example of people who could benefit from the kitchen. “If they can cook, they can start a small business and in two years, when they are off of welfare, they will have a source of income,” she said.

Kitchen incubators have proven to help businesses succeed, Scott said, because they offer business planning guidance and help with securing the proper permits and insurance required to get business loans and eventually sell the product.

The cost to use the kitchen for an eight-hour shift is cheaper than other commercial kitchens in the city, Scott said. The $250 fee per shift may seem high, but with caterers pulling in thousands of dollars per job, it is very affordable.

The kitchen offers a huge, walk-in refrigerator and freezer, major tools to chop, dice and stir, several large sinks, plenty of counter space, pots, pans, special oven racks for cakes, a deep-fryer and recipe-converter. Basically, everything is there except forks and knives.

Many of the kitchen’s current clients are caterers, a business that is more popular in the city than in rural areas, Scott said. Others are food home-delivery services for both two-career households and the elderly.

Those who prepare seasonal foods from fruit or vegetables, like those who bake pies, are also in various stages of developing their businesses.

A lot of preparation goes into the product before a cook even hits the kitchen, Scott explained. First, the bare-minimum requirement is a food handlers’ license, next is insurance — just in case anything goes wrong.

Then there are patents, approval from the Food and Drug Administration, nutrition labels, and other details the kitchen can help put in place.

Most importantly, in order to join the kitchen, a potential business owner has to have a business plan. If you do not have one, the kitchen can advise you on where to go to create one. They help clients travel the maze of city and state agencies dealing with small food business development.

Anyone interested in using the kitchen incubator is urged to contact the La Amistad and fill out a survey. Everyone in New York state is eligible to join the kitchen. Call 658-8369 for more information.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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