October 24, 2011
Like barbecue sauce and garlic bread, or bacon, avocado and jack (on a chicken sandwich, perhaps?!), or mushrooms, pepperoni and olives on a thin-crust pizza, some tasty things go together beautifully.
We can add Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (758-1469), better known as ALBA, the Salinas nonprofit which gives aspiring small organic farmers a foothold, and El Pajaro Community Development Corporation (722-1224) to the list. The combination looks poised to transform an old tofu factory in Watsonville into a thrumming hub of organic produce and small food purveyors.
The synergies between the local picklers, piemakers, cooks and caterers gathered by EPCDC and ALBA's organic farmers are natural—but they are also secondary to the original inspiration for the project, as the Weekly's Sara Rubin illuminates with her piece (at newstands now) "Fruits and Bolts: ALBA expands to Watsonville, partners with neighboring commercial kitchen incubator."
ALBA needed more refrigeration for its distribution arm, and EPCDC sought a place to house small purveyors who couldn't commit to big-ticket expenses like walk-in fridges and commercial stoves.
Weekly editorial intern and budding foodie Theodore Lawrence headed out to the new venue's ribbon cutting to see what he could find out about the chefs moving in and what they have cooking.
Here's what he came back with:
In a field of black extension cords capped in safety-yellow plugs, the smells of spicy pepper-jelly, mouthwatering tacos asada and sugary sweet pan dulce trace an invisible path to new jobs and business opportunities.
Though this former bakery and tofu factory looks largely empty now, by early 2012 it will host up to 10 different small food businesses producing deliciousness around the clock.
“The goal is very simple: To create jobs and and energize the economy,” said El Pájaro Community Development Corporation Chair Jorge Reguerin. “Typically, these micro-entrepreneurs have very little capital. This way they don’t have to spend the $2-300,000 it would otherwise take to acquire similar resources.”
The Watsonville Commercial Kitchen Incubator contains eight to 10 workstations, a loading dock and a walk-in refrigerator. Supporters attending the ribbon-cutting included Congressman Sam Farr, Watsonville Mayor Daniel Dodge and representatives from both Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
Within these 8,000 square feet, entrepreneurs of the edible, such as one Michoacan bread-maker who currently rents out space from a pizzeria, will be able to utilize modern commercial utilities more conveniently than renting out space from another food company.
Participants will also receive training, small business advice and information on commercial food preparation at no additional cost. It’s with these benefits in mind that dessert artist Marci Prolo plans to use the kitchen incubator to expand her business, Goose’s Goodies (320-0524).
“My passion is to keep the business in town,” Prolo says. “If it wasn’t for this opportunity, I would probably have to take it somewhere else.”
Facilities suitable for everyone from caterers and bakers to mobile food vendors and farmers mean Prolo won’t be alone. Silvia Campa of Tacos Vega (262-8226) was on hand serving up carne asada de lengua right beside Claudia Vimala Shargel of Global Local Farms (728-5901) showcasing her special red pepper jelly.
Natalie Castillo, a pastry chef who has been baking for friends and family for years, learned about the class through one of El Pájaro’s business courses for women.
“We get calls from as far as Oregon,” said Castillo while showcasing a birthday cake iced in violet ribbons, which she had completed for a customer in just a day, no small feat for a self-taught chef who spent most of her working years as a secretary (see photo, top of the page).
As cake sales grow, Castillo hopes the incubator allows her Sweet Blessing Cakes (840-5681) to really take off: “I can’t do it out of my home, so this place is a huge chance for me to start my first business.”
With help from Farr, El Pájaro won a $90,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, and is still fund-raising for its remaining $300,000 budget. After 10 years of planning, The incubator is slated for completion next year, when a waiting list of more than 15 different businesses already planning to spread a wealth of local cuisine to local customers.