“A lot of food vendors had to either close their doors or scale down their current business, just because of overhead and lack of resources,” said White. “So we want to be able to create a place where people can fully concentrate on their services, provide opportunities to the community where they’re able to go back, create catering businesses, open up brick and mortar food services, work in the kitchen or just develop different workplace development opportunities.”
The venture is being developed in two phases, the first being an entrepreneurial skills education program called Sharpen the Axe, created by Dayton-based nonprofit OH Taste. The program will teach as many as 50 up-and-coming entrepreneurs the fundamentals of running a successful food business per year.
In the second phase, entrepreneurs will be offered market-rate rental spaces in the commercial kitchen that will include a retail store where people will have access to fresh and nutritious food created by tenants of the kitchen. Entrepreneurs will also have access to mentoring, and business support such as sourcing ingredients, marketing and distribution, and access to capital.
The Fifth Third Foundation announced Monday that it’s giving a $1 million grant to the incubator’s second phase. The renovations for this phase are expected to be completed in the next 12-18 months. The three founders are seeking an additional $2.5 million as they prepare to open the space.
The commercial kitchen is named for the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion (nicknamed “Six Triple Eight,”) a battalion of 855 Black women sent to Europe during World War II to solve the problem of the army’s mail. In February 1945, millions of pieces of unsorted mail intended for American servicemen in Europe sat undelivered in British warehouses, which Army officials at the time said was sapping American morale. The 6888th battalion sorted as many as 65,000 packages and letters daily, according to womenshistory.org, clearing a six-month backlog of mail in three months.
The commander of the 6888th, Charity Adams Early, is also a part of Dayton history. She attended Wilberforce University, was the first Black woman to be an officer in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, and after retiring from the military, was a longtime Dayton resident and active member in the community until her death in 2002.
In addition to scaling successful startups into new restaurants and food and beverage companies, the three hope to tackle Dayton “food deserts,” so named because residents in those areas do not have proper access to affordable or nutritious foods.
“All over Ohio, there’s already this issue of food deserts,” Scales said. “Expanding on that, the research we were seeing was that grocery stores were leaving the city, especially in some of your under-resourced populations. Having a kitchen incubator is is part of that solution to bringing them back.”
The three plan to scale their business, and take their model to other food deserts in the future.
“You have to show that you care to solve the problem, or to take care of your own people before these corporations see and agree that the investment needs to be made in your local area. We have to show them that we care,” Scales added.