West Philadelphia center will support aspiring chefs


Bon Appetit has partnered with the center to buy about $500,000 worth of products




The next big startup may come out of the oven instead of a MacBook.

The Durrence H. Hamilton Center for Culinary Enterprises will offer rentable kitchen space and business resources for local caterers and restaurateurs.

The center will open at 48th and Spruce streets in the next weeks, according to Della Clark, president of The Enterprise Center — a West Philadelphia business development group that operates the CCE.

The center will provide chefs and entrepreneurs with not only a space to develop products and grow their businesses, but also the expensive kitchen equipment that they may not be able to buy themselves. It is currently accepting applications online.

Inside CCE, there will be an “incubator kitchen facility,” comprised of individual kitchens that chefs can rent out by the hour. The center will also feature a large walk-in freezer, a delivery bay for shipping products in or out and a wide range of cooking supplies.

There will also be a multimedia kitchen, where television producers can film cooking programs. CCE Director Delilah Winder said the CCE is even interested in producing a youth kitchen show, featuring local high school students.

To accommodate this wide array of services, the center will stay open 24/7 — hours “based on the industry we’re serving to, which never really closes,” Winder said.

CCE has been an ongoing project for about a decade. A feasibility study was commissioned nine years ago by the city. The project ended up amounting to $6.3 million, according to Clark.

Bon Appétit at Penn has partnered with the center to purchase about $500,000 worth of products from CCE entrepreneurs.

Clark conceived the project when she noticed how many aspiring restaurateurs and caterers would come to TEC in need of cooking space.

She thought that opening a public kitchen space would “break a lot of barriers for local entrepreneurs,” she said.

Several Penn organizations were also involved in realizing the project, Clark said.

These included the Wharton School’s Social Impact Consulting Group, the University Office of Business Services and the Penn Entrepreneurial Legal Clinic, which “held our hand through the whole process,” Clark said.

Law School professor and PELC director Praveen Kosuri explained that in many cities small food businesses often populate what economists call a “grey economy” — a trade in goods whose production does not comply with certain regulations.

“You’ll have folks who are very good at baking a cake, a pastry, anything,” Kosuri said. “But they’re doing it only for their family and friends.” These cooks will use the kitchens in their homes, their churches or even restaurants when they are closed.

However, because it is illegal to sell food products not prepared in regulated kitchens, he added, “there’s a limit to just how much those businesses can grow.”

So when he heard from a colleague at TEC that they were developing a center for West Philadelphia food startups, Kosuri saw his clinic’s services as being a perfect fit.

“Bringing people out of that grey economy is one way [the PELC] can help revitalize neighborhood communities,” he said.

Clark said the PELC was instrumental in hammering out a strategy for acquiring the perfect space for the CCE — a 13,000 square feet supermarket, which had been sitting vacant for more than 10 years.

Over the past five years, Kosuri and several law students have been working on everything from finalizing real estate negotiations to drafting labor and management agreements.

According to Winder, that accessibility will make the CCE a much more welcoming and inclusive employer.

She added that food businesses comprise “one of the few industries where you don’t need a college degree,” with plenty of opportunities for promotion and incentives for hard work.

“It’s the hospitality industry,” she said. “People always have to eat, people always have a need for comfort.”

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