The Organic Food Incubator in Long Island City creates a space for people’s ideas to bake, ferment and harden in a quite literal way.
About two years ago Bad Ass Organics, which produces 17 items from kombucha to raw slaws, hot sauces and energy shots, began looking for a new spot to locate its Hell Kitchen-based business.
Co-founder Mike Schwartz and partners set out looking in most of the boroughs for a 3,000-square-foot-space.
“But we didn’t find it, because it doesn’t exist,” Schwartz said.
Instead they found the 12,000-square-foot industrial warehouse at 23-23 Borden Ave.
“The small food manufacturing community is small and you meet people,” he said.
And those people they met needed a certified commercial kitchen to bake their gluten-free breads, set their sorbets and ice creams and create their turmeric drinks. So BAO set to work turning its giant cement room into 11 200-square-feet kitchens and one communal kitchen, since the growing organic food company only needed about 300 of those square feet for its own endeavors.
Companies such as Alchemy Creamery, Da Rosario Organics, Turmeric Alive and Kombrewcha moved in and helped create the conglomerate of food manufacturers — and pay the rent.
“We’re packed full,” Schwartz said. Not only has the incubator taken off but BAO grew from two employees in Manhattan to seven. And the incubator provides far more.
“We grew from two employees to 50. They aren’t all with Bad Ass Organics, but we helped to grow this,” Schwartz said. “I’m pretty proud. Fifty jobs in this city is nothing, but it’s still 50 jobs.”
BAO has expanded into the contract manufacturing business as well, which means it bottles, labels or creates from a recipe products for other groups.
Some companies choose to hire someone else to package their product for a variety of reasons. Some would like to stick to the creative process, while others would like to skip the lengthy state licensing process that is required to bottle a product themselves. BAO has that certification and therefore can legally bottle, box and wrap items.
Schwartz recently acquired a commercial space upstairs from the incubator where he is in the process of constructing 11 more kitchens, four of which are already rented. He also invested in a bottler — a machine that can fill 2,000 bottles in an hour.
“It will help grow our business,” Schwartz said. “It even bottles carbonated drinks, which is hard.”
BAO co-packs for about seven companies.
Brooklynite Ariel Glazer founded Kombrewcha to brew an alcholic kombucha, which is a fermented tea, about a year ago at the incubator.
It takes about two months for a new flavor of Kombrewcha to go from idea to bottle.
BAO bottles the beverage and then the liquid is moved to another location to be created into an alcholic beverage.
In the last month Glazer hired a full-time sales associate, growing his business 100 percent, in the hopes of getting the boozy tea on the shelves.
“We’re going to hopefully start selling soon,” Glazer said.
BAO also collaborates with organizations such as the Doe Fund, the Osborne Association and Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow — nonprofits that help at-risk youth, the homeless or individuals recently released from prison — to fill job openings.
The businesses at Organic Food Incubator are not all organic, though BAO can help them obtain their organic certifications, Schwartz said, but they can’t produce “any garbage.”
“No high-fructose corn syrup, no GMOs, no garbage here,” he added, referring in part to genetically modified organisms.
Each of the 11 kitchens costs about $1,900 for a monthly rental or some companies such as Cocktail Crate rent time in the communal kitchen on a when-they-need-it basis.
“I haven’t grown to the point that I have hired anyone, but the incubator has been instumental to me because I started really small,” Cocktail Crate co-founder Alexander Abbott Boyd said. “They have a hot fill machine, a label machine, a steam kettle — I couldn’t afford any of that.”
Abbott Boyd rents the kitchen a few hours a week to create his bottle of cocktail mixers, which he sells in speciality stores around the city and at Smorgasburg, an outdoor weekend market in Brooklyn.
Beyond the equipment needed for his business the incubator also provides a beneficial network of like-minded entrepreneurs.
“There are great benefits from just being in the space,” Abbott Boyd said. “I have been able to connect with people who are running similar beverage companies but three years out.”
Within the next year Abbott Boyd hopes to rent a kitchen full time and perhaps even hire an employee.