Adam Dean
May 5, 2016
What the Heck are Food Incubators?!
What the Heck are Food Incubators?!

If ever there was a bohemian source for the culinary artist, the food incubator would be it. Food incubators have several pseudonyms which can be interchanged with one another. You may have heard “culinary incubators,” “food truck kitchens,” or possibly even “kitchen incubators.” Food incubators have been receiving a lot of attention lately and many people seem to be puzzled by what they actually are.

A food incubator is a large space that contains several commercial kitchen build-outs. Duplicated kitchen equipment ensures that users have what they need, when they need it. Users pay a rental rate according to the amount of space, time, and type of equipment they need. Rental agreements can be as short as an afternoon or evening “pop up” to as long as a year or more.

Why are they beneficial?

For the user, this approach provides low monetary risk– an affordable solution to food preparation and cooking for professionals who do not otherwise have access to a commercial kitchen. The kitchen space allows the professional to “incubate” his or her concept or product until it’s ready for the market.

Incubators are, in large part, responsible for the many new products and industries we see today. An example is the bourgeoning food truck industry. Without a brick and mortar kitchen, food trucks cannot operate. There are very few commercial kitchens that would be willing to lease their space to a competitor on wheels. The food incubators fill that void.

Who uses them?

We see many young chefs, bakers, catering companies, food truck owners, farmer’s market and community event vendors, as well as even small level food product innovators utilizing food incubators. The space often becomes a community through the shared space among its renters. This is an additional benefit to the renter who can collaborate with like-minded professionals, further improving on their ideas. Think of a micro-scale Silicon Valley for food and beverage.

Some food incubators are open to the public or have special events for the public. It’s a great place to experience emerging trends and unique products. Often, when a concept is ready to evolve from the food incubator phase, it will find its way onto a food truck or to a food hall. Food halls are another very popular new trend that follows the same principle of food incubators. They are low financial risk outlets that help promote fledgling companies who have innovative concepts. Since writing the food hall blog, the market has continued to grow and develop. Many highly touted chefs are now joining the movement to add flair to their trendy image and increase their visibility.

It’s because food incubators are fulfilling a vital culinary need that they are here to stay. More and more are popping up, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the complexity of the cooking equipment offered expand with them.

By:  Adam Dean

Senior Associate – Management Advisory Services | Washington

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