Sean Gartland, Director of Flint Food Works, is settling into his sweet spot. “All the excitement of opening the new Farmers’ Market was keeping me pretty distracted,” said Sean, who’s also the Culinary Director for the Market and the facilities manager. But now that the frenzy of relocation has died down, Sean can direct his focus toward his great passion: helping people start their small culinary businesses.
Flint Food Works was an entity literally built into the plans for the Farmers’ Market building with the intention of growing local start-ups in the food industry. Two commercial kitchens at the market provide space for aspiring culinary businessmen and women to prepare their handmade products for sale. “The east kitchen is specialized for baking and pastry making, while the west kitchen has more of a savory setup,” Sean laughed. All of the equipment is brand new and ready to use. “We try to supply all of the basic utensils one might need in addition to the appliances,” Sean explained, “although if someone needs highly specialized equipment, they have to provide that themselves.” In addition to the kitchen space, storage lockers are available for rent in the loading/unloading area at the back of the building, as well as in the walk-in refrigerator and freezer. These features, incorporated into the market’s renovation by Fun Architecture, LLC, give tiny businesses flexibility and options, easing the burden of coordinating trips to the kitchen. Participants also have their own key cards and can reserve time in the kitchen 24 hours a day.
Flint Food Works is more than just kitchen space for rent, however. “We are first and foremost a culinary business incubator,” said Sean, “so we are here to help people who are serious about it get their small food businesses off the ground.” A successful culinary business takes more than just a good idea and a great recipe. Participants in FFW must formulate their business – which is to say they must set up an LLC – and obtain proper licensing and insurance before their first time in the kitchen. These processes, Sean reports, can cost $1,000-$1,500. “Some of the participants are farther along in these stages than others,” he said, “but the costs on the logistics side can act as a barrier for people who are stretched thin trying to buy what they need to begin making their product.” Enter the United Way of Genesee County, which has given a $10,000 grant to the Flint Food Works. “We are going to divide this money into micro grants to help cover the startup costs for 8-10 new businesses in the next year!” said Sean, who is eagerly anticipating the program’s growth thanks to these funds.