Niles Culinary incubator helps food entrepreneurs

By: Frank Waugh Email
By: Frank Waugh Email

It is estimated that nearly one in 10 small business will fail within the first five years of operation.

Despite these staggering numbers, brave entrepreneurs venture down the small business path every single year.

A program in Niles is hoping to cut those numbers by giving some much needed support to those who are trying to bring their dreams to market.

“This here is the chocolate chip and I like a lot of chocolate chips in my cookies as you can see,” said Marianne Christy of Christy's Bakery and Produce.

Christy started her small business at her home in Edwardsburg.

“At the kitchen at home, I can make one batch of cookies which is about 5 dozen cookies and that takes an hour,” said Christy.

Today she is taking advantage of an industrial grade kitchen in Niles.

“I can bake ten pans and there are 24 cookies on a pan, so I can do 240 cookies in 7 minutes,” said Christy.

The boost in productivity comes courtesy of the Niles Entrapranurial Culinary Incubator, or NECI for short.

“This is very new. we have actually probably been working on it for 3 years or so. It started as a concept from our French market. We learned that there are so many people that make wonderful product and want to try and start a business,” said Lisa Croteau, Program Manager at Niles DDA Mainstreet.

While many want to start a business, they are often unprepared for the challenges that come along with it and that is why spaces like this are popping up all over the country. The kitchen can be used by clients for a mere $20 dollars an hour.

“It is really a bargain, compared to doing it yourself absolutely. “It would take you a year’s worth of rent to buy the stove,” said Croteau.

“What's amazing is that with this kitchen it is a 24 hour, 7 day a week kitchen, so there is plenty of space and time for me to grow my business,” said Christy.

The kitchen is just one of the resources offered by the NECI.

"We require that people go through one of the "I Want to Start a Business classes. We offer a variety of them through a variety of sources and then hook up with a business mentor or councilor of some sort, because making the best cookie in the world is only one piece of the puzzle. You need to know what to expect. You need to know the business end of that cookie and getting it out there,” said Croteau.

And while the Culinary Incubator is fairly new, it is already cooking up confidence.

“If you just have an idea, if you just have a thought, I mean jump in both feet, make a splash, go to town and do it,” said Christy. “I mean you can't sit on the sidelines. Sometimes you have to stand at the cliff you have got to look down and you have to jump. I don't care how afraid you are of heights you just have to jump. I have been jumping off of a lot of cliffs and I am not as scared as I was a year ago.”

“Here, you won’t be on your own. You will have a whole support staff that will be able to help you find whatever resource it is that you need,” said Croteau.

The NECI also requires participants to sell their products at the Niles French market in order to receive feedback from customers.

And Lisa tells us that by the end of November, a new shop will be coming to downtown Niles that will feature local products, some of which will be made through the NECI.

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