U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation (RDCC) has been awarded $982,000 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to build The Commissary Downtown Kitchen Incubator, sought by hundreds of Rochester food entrepreneurs to start and grow new food-based businesses and products. Schumer said this funding will be used to build and equip the new 30,000 sq ft facility on the first floor of Rochester’s iconic Sibley Building. Currently, the RDDC has a wait list with 152 food entrepreneurs interested in using The Commissary Downtown Kitchen Incubator’s planned facilities and services to start and grow their businesses and to produce new food products for sale.
The senators said that The Commissary will boost the Rochester-area economy by spurring the establishment of numerous start-up packaged food and beverage manufacturing businesses, restaurants, bakeries, caterers, food truck operators, and other food-related businesses by reducing the otherwise high cost of creating a licensed commercial kitchen. It will also house a demonstration kitchen where start-ups can market or sell their products to the public, hold food events and cooking classes, and will provide mentoring, training, and business support services to entrepreneurs to help their fledgling businesses take root and succeed. In October, Schumer visited the site of The Commissary and wrote to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to push for this critical grant from the EDA.
“I was proud to help secure this much-needed federal EDA funding for Rochester’s first-ever food business incubator here in the Sibley Building, and can’t wait to see – and taste – what aspiring food entrepreneurs cook up once construction is complete. Now that this vital funding is secured, it’s time for Rochester’s first Commissary Incubator to get cooking! This exciting effort will create 100 jobs, and provide workspace for countless Rochester food entrepreneurs who will soon be creating even more jobs in the local economy,” said Senator Schumer. “During my visit in October, it was clear the Commissary Kitchen Incubator is Rochester’s recipe to serve up major economic development and new businesses while creating a destination to bring visitors, diners and more to revitalize downtown.”
“This grant is fantastic news for the Rochester food scene and for the redevelopment the historic Sibley Building,” said Senator Gillibrand. “A newly renovated commercial kitchen will allow local restaurant businesses and foodies alike to participate in The Commissary Downtown Kitchen Incubator’s innovative food start-up lab. This will help create jobs in the heart of Rochester, and I will continue to do everything I can to get the resources our local businesses need to thrive.”
The senators said that currently, one major barrier of entry for potential restaurant and food-related business owners is the exceedingly high cost of building a commercial kitchen. It is illegal to sell food or food products unless they are prepared in a licensed commercial kitchen. Schumer and Gillibrand said that building a kitchen can cost up to $100,000, which is often times untenable for prospective restauranteurs and chefs. Additionally, a food truck can cost up to $50,000. This cost is compounded by the fact that due to public health and safety concerns, in many counties, including Monroe County, it is illegal to share a kitchen. Without aspiring food entrepreneurs able to share costs with one another, the senators said it is less likely that they would be able to afford their own commercial kitchen and start their business without amassing serious debt. However, Schumer and Gillibrand said that The Commissary, as an “Incubator Kitchen,” has been permitted to operate as Monroe County’s only shared commercial kitchen, which means it will be in compliance with local public health law and cleared for use by multiple users. Therefore, Schumer and Gillibrand explained that The Commissary will eliminate the necessity of building an expensive commercial kitchen for entrepreneurs opening food businesses and restaurants, and boost the Rochester-area economy as a result.
According to RDDC within its first year of operation, The Commissary anticipates supporting the indirect creation and growth of thirty food businesses and sixty jobs, and fifty food businesses and one hundred jobs by its third year. Additionally, Schumer and Gillibrand noted that the project has ample support from the local business community and local officials.
Schumer and Gillibrand said the EDA grant will fund the construction of The Commissary within an existing vacant 30,000 sq ft space on the first floor of Rochester’s iconic Sibley building. Specifically, funding will be used to construct a shared commercial kitchen with fourteen kitchen workstations equipped with commercial-grade cooking equipment. Food entrepreneurs will be able to rent a kitchen station for as little as four hours at a time to produce their food products. Shared-use dry and cold storage areas will also be constructed for food entrepreneurs to use to prepare fresh or packaged products for sale. The senators said that The Commissary will help prepare aspiring entrepreneurs for their careers as business-owners by offering mentoring support, workshops, and training in addition to the kitchen space. Lastly, funding will be used to construct a demonstration show kitchen where start-ups can market or sell their products to the public, hold food events, or host cooking classes. As they grow, the entrepreneurs will also have priority access to open a retail kiosk space in the Food Hall which is now being developed adjacent to The Commissary on the first floor of the Sibley Building. The demonstration show kitchen and Food Hall will create a street-level destination for downtown workers, visitors and residents to vitalize downtown. The senators stated that The Commissary would be the first kitchen incubator in New York State outside of New York City, and called on the EDA to support the RDDC’s grant application, citing not only its ability to create jobs but also it’ ability to help revitalize downtown Rochester.
The senators explained that The Commissary will not only be a launching pad to grow new businesses, but it will also be a key anchor in the revitalization of downtown Rochester by creating new street-level activity along the City’s Main Street Corridor. Physically, The Commissary will be located in the heart of Rochester’s new Downtown Innovation Zone, which is aimed at bolstering Main Street and Downtown Rochester into a hub for new high tech, business and entrepreneurial activities alongside new mixed-use developments with places to live, shop, eat, do business and more.
Schumer has successfully secured prior EDA grants used to construct new downtown job-creating projects including a $1.5 million EDA grant to build the Rochester Institute of Technology Center for Urban Entrepreneurship (CUE) and a $2 million EDA grant to construct the Midtown Rising site, which is now home to new businesses and commercial development. Additionally, in 2015, Schumer helped secure $42.5 million in federal New Markets Tax Credits that were needed to greenlight the multi-phase $200 million redevelopment of the Sibley Building. Schumer and Gillibrand also worked to secure a $2.6 million EDA grant to build the NextCorps (formerly High Tech of Rochester) Accelerator on Sibley’s 5th and 6th Floors. Securing the federal NMTC funds was the final piece of the puzzle needed in order for the Sibley Building developers, WinnDevelopment, to start construction on the first $110 million in renovations on-schedule, and ultimately to move forward on the complete multi-phase, job-creating $200 million Sibley redevelopment plan and setting the state for job-creating development like The Commissary.
Below is a copy of Senator Schumer’s letter sent to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross:
I write to express my strong support for Rochester Downtown Development Corporation’s (RDDC) grant application to the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to construct and equip The Commissary: Downtown Kitchen Incubator in the City of Rochester.
The Commissary Downtown Kitchen Incubator would enable existing and start-up entrepreneurs to launch new food-based businesses in downtown Rochester. Together with wrap-around incubation and business support services, the Commissary will provide a pathway to establish and grow new local businesses by solving one of the biggest impediments to creating a successful food start-up: the high cost of creating a licensed commercial kitchen. Food businesses and restaurants experience a very high failure rate often related to the high cost of creating a commercial kitchen, which increases the debt load significantly for fledgling restaurant and food businesses.
The Commissary would feature a shared commercial kitchen with fourteen kitchen stations, one show kitchen, and shared-use dry and cold storage areas available to food entrepreneurs to use to prepare products for sale. In addition, the Commissary Incubator will provide tenants with specific expertise in the food industry which many of Rochester’s existing entrepreneurial support services lack. Within the first year of operation, the Commissary anticipates supporting the indirect creation and growth of thirty food businesses and 60 jobs and fifty food businesses and 100 jobs in its third year.
Additionally the Commissary: Downtown Kitchen Incubator will not only be a launching pad to grow new businesses but it will be a key anchor in the revitalization of downtown Rochester by creating new street-level activity along the City’s Main Street Corridor. Physically, the Commissary will be located in the heart of Rochester’s new Downtown Innovation Zone which is aimed at bolstering Main Street and Downtown Rochester into a hub for new high tech, business, and entrepreneurial activities alongside new mixed-use developments with places to live, shop, eat, do business and more. The EDA, in fact, has been a vital partner in setting the stage for the creation and future success of the Innovation Zone through past grant awards make to projects located in the Innovation Zone including the Rochester Institute of Technology Center for Urban Entrepreneurship (CUE) and the Midtown Rising site which is now home to new businesses and commercial development, and the NextCorps (formerly High Tech of Rochester) Accelerator. EDA’s support now of the Commissary will not only leverage these earlier EDA investments but provide the impetus to push Rochester’s economic and downtown development results to even new heights.
I strongly recommend this project for EDA funding and appreciate your consideration.