By Laurie Paolicelli
How Hillsborough-based, Piedmont Food Processing Center Helps
You’re a wonderful, inventive cook – on good days you may even think of yourself as a chef – who dazzles family and friends with your unbelievably tasty concoctions. You are an artist in the kitchen, and everyone says you should go make a business out of it.
You’ve always had that dream and it’s a dream you just can’t shake. But how do you turn an idea for a great pasta sauce, for instance, or ice cream, or “an aromatic blend of exotic herbs and fiery spices” into a product and take that product to market? How, in other words, do you get it out of your kitchen and become a food entrepreneur?
That’s where the team at the Piedmont Food Processing Center (PFPC) can help.
PFPC is a shared-use kitchen allowing those interested in the local food industry to lease kitchen space as well as processing facilities. What this means is that the ambitious victual impressario has access to four separate kitchens, prep space, walk-in coolers, shared office space, and more. Specialty equipment includes everything from steam kettles to chocolate cookers, dehydrators to blast freezers — everything you need to start a food business. And since it’s open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, you can always find time to get your dream up and running.
Since its inception in 2011, PFPC has supported over 300 companies. Over the last four years, 75% of their 120+ startups are still in business. That’s an unbelievable success rate. Five years ago PFPC had 15 clients; today they have over 60.
PFPC is so successful because there’s no aspect of the entrepreneurial adventure they do not focus on. The 10,000-square-foot facility located on Valley Forge Road in Hillsborough offers a range of services from four kitchens to dry, refrigerated, and frozen storage, from packaging and labeling equipment to a loading dock. Its main purpose is to encourage and facilitate the local food economy while allowing individuals the opportunity to see their dreams realized. Funding sources include Orange County, NC IDEA, the N.C. Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, the Golden LEAF Foundation, the U.S. Housing & Urban Development Economic Initiative Program, among other state, local and federal grants.
Supporting the local food movement has many positives — stimulating the economy and keeping the small family farmers in business are at the top of the list. But the facility itself has a host of benefits that go far beyond its walls. Eric Hallman, PFPC’s Executive Director, says having a group of farmers and food entrepreneurs rubbing elbows helps facilitate creativity and shared knowledge as well as an exchange of goods.
“A food business is not just about cooking,” Hallman says. “You need to know about sales, marketing, legal, accounting. We really try to teach a little bit about all the skills necessary to make a food business work.”
Some 300 entrepreneurial food start-ups have received help from PFPC. Some of these brands include: Seal the Seasons, Best Chance BBQ, Beau Catering, Kyookz Artfully Pickled and many, many more. See a complete list here: https://www.pfapnc.org/our-entreprenures
Apart from the storage, equipment, and access to sourcing available, Hallman enjoys helping to foster a community around the kitchen, where people can help one another. He calls PFPC a “culinary incubator.” The kitchen stations available to rent by the hour are set up in a large, open shared-use space, designed to foster collaboration and community. “This is about being a small-food advocate,” Hallman says. “We’re hoping to give those individuals a platform, a megaphone. We want to help small businesses succeed.”
Being an artist in the kitchen doesn’t always mean you’ll make a great entrepreneur. But that’s why a place like PFPC is so essential to success in the incredibly competitive world of food. If the past is prologue, there is no better place in the Triangle to begin that yummiest of dreams. Clearly, Hallman and his team have great taste.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.