Rain didn’t stop a large crowd of elected officials, businesspeople and community activists from attending the Oct. 24 groundbreaking of the Hatchery, an East Garfield Park food business incubator that is expected to open sometime in the fall of 2018. 

As previously reported by Austin Weekly News, the development is a joint project between Accion Chicago and the Industrial Council of Northwest Chicago. It will be located on a largely vacant lot east of Kedzie/Lake Green Line ‘L’ station, between Lake Street, Albany Avenue, Randolph Street, Maypole Avenue and Kedzie Avenue. 

Once completed, the 70,000-square-foot faciliity will be able to house between 75 and100 entrepreneurs. The Hatchery is projected to create around 150 jobs in its first year of operations and around 900 jobs within five years.

The Hatchery is an outgrowth of ICNC’s business incubator, where aspiring entrepreneurs can rent out space and get access to resources that would help them get their vision off the ground. 

As Mary Fran Riley, Accion’s Senior Vice President of External Affairs, previously explained to this newspaper, the organization felt that it wasn’t well-suited for food-related businesses, so they wanted to build something else. Accion Chicago learned from experience that one of the biggest issues facing food-related start-ups is access to kitchens that meet municipal codes. 

“In order to meet all the code requirements, you need to have a hood over the stove, walls need to be sealed, floors need to be sealed,” Riley explained during an earlier interview. “So it’s often too expensive for entrepreneurs to borrow enough money to build out a kitchen.”

Her organization did a feasibility study that determined that a business incubator would remove those obstacles. And since ICNC was already looking for something like this, it made sense for the two organizations to team up and create the Hatchery together.

Since then, Garfield Park Community Council joined in as a partner, as did IFF, a Loop-based non-profit developer and financier, and two corporate partners, the Kellogg Company and Conagra Brands.

Once built, the Hatchery will have kitchens for individual tenants and shared kitchens. The individual kitchens will come in different sizes, and tenants will be able to choose whichever size suits their particular needs. 

It will also include cold and dry storage spaces, offices and meeting areas. The building will become home to GPCC’s farmers market and Accion Chicago offices once it’s finished. 

In addition to getting space and equipment, entrepreneurs will be able to apply for loans with Accion Chicago. They will also be able to get technical assistance, attend free classes and receive consulting on a range of topics in the food and beverage industry. 

According to Angela Taylor, GPCC’s Wellness Coordinator, the Hatchery will also have job opportunities for local residents beyond business start-up services.

“In each temperamental company formed at the Hatchery, there will job opportunities,” she said. “Warehouse [workers], forklift operators — things of that nature.”

To help this along, the Hatchery will offer job readiness programs for local residents. Celebrity chef Rick Bayless will be also use the building to host a culinary training program for low-income high school and college students.

“I believe our city is rich with untapped resources,” he said. “If we can develop a way to cultivate them, both our restaurants and our community will be the better for it.”

The project will be covered by $8 million in city funding, as well as grants from several Chicago area foundations.

During the groundbreaking, Mayor Rahm Eamanuel touted the Hatchery as a major asset not just for the West Side, but for Chicago as a whole.

“The Hatchery will create new jobs, support local entrepreneurs and strengthen Chicago’s position at the forefront of the food industry,” he said. “Even more importantly, this facility will extend the success of Chicago’s thriving food industry directly into our neighborhoods.”

Steve DeBretto, ICNC’s executive director, said that making sure the community benefits from the project was paramount to him

“We don’t consider it a success if a big portion of those jobs doesn’t come from these neighborhoods,” he said. “We want to see people walking to work.”

Taylor said she was excited to see the project reach the groundbreaking stage.

“The impact [of the Hatchery] is going to be phenomenal,” she said. “In the next five years, we’re going to see my neighbors being employed, working, walking to work.”

Clark McCain, senior program officer at Coleman Foundation, one of the organizations that provided the funding, said that East Garfield Park has plenty of potential and the Hatchery would go a long way toward helping to realize it.

“We feel like it’s going to create more entrepreneurs in Chicago, particularly in communities like this one,” he said. “It’s located in a neighborhood where there’s tremendous opportunity to reimagine a neighborhood around food.”     

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com  

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...