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Photo: Mary MacDonald/Providence Business News
A rehabilitation project recently turned the old Mechanical Fabric Company mill in Providence’s West End into a live-work space for culinary entrepreneurs.
Providence can be a good place for starting a food business, partly because Johnson & Wales turns out so many good cooks, partly because the cost of a restaurant liquor license is much less than in many other cities.

And in recent years, the arrival of food incubators like Hope & Main in nearby Warren have provided a way for food entrepreneurs to get up and running without going deep into debt.

Recently, Providence Journal reporter John Hill wrote about a new food incubator, combined with living space, going into the old Mechanical Fabric Co. mill in Providence’s West End.

“In its 125 years,” writes Hill, “the old brick factory at 55 Cromwell St. has made bicycle tires, electronic components and jewelry. Now it’s getting ready to make dinner.

“The interior of the 1891 building, once filled by the clatter and thrum of steam-powered, belt-driven machines, is being gutted and rebuilt as the new home of two commercial kitchens, restaurant space and 40 efficiency apartments for young food-industry entrepreneurs.

“Federico Manaigo, whose Cromwell Ventures LLC owns the building, said the conversion is aimed at capitalizing on Providence’s reputation as a restaurant mecca. When finished, he said, the factory will be home to recent college graduates considering the restaurant business, either as chefs or owners. …

“Manaigo wants to see if he can duplicate the success of Hot Bread Kitchen, an incubator program in East Harlem in New York City. That program, without apartments, rents space to people with small ethnic food businesses who want to grow into full-fledged commercial operations. It also provides training programs and rents space to start-ups that grow from those efforts.

“The idea is to give promising food-business grads a way to stay in Providence, he said, where they can hone their skills and, when they’re ready to open a restaurant, bakery or catering company, do it in Rhode Island and hire Rhode Islanders. …

“Manaigo said he wants to see if the project can tap into sources of culinary inspiration beyond the colleges. The East Harlem incubator found success by recruiting immigrants, especially women, from the neighborhood, persuading them to share their recipes from home and start small bakeries selling their food. The West End has Middle Eastern, Asian and Central and South American restaurants in its storefronts, a sign of a diverse ethnic population Manaigo said he hopes the kitchen can work with.”

Mayor Jorge Elorza has said he likes that the project offers “a way for the city to use the colleges in the area as sources of potential new business owners and play off the restaurant business in a way that could make it even bigger in the future.

” ‘The whole food scene is a strategic strength for the city,’ he said. ‘This fits squarely within that.’ ” More here.

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