Kathrine Gregory has seen the COVID-19 pandemic spur people to take stock, “a time to reevaluate what’s important in your life and what you want to do,” she says. The kitchen incubator she runs in Long Island City, Queens, The Entrepreneur Incubator Space, fosters startup ‘foodpreneurs,’ as she calls them, and the uptick in applications has been notable.
“People were stuck at home, barely able to do anything, so they went on YouTube or recipe channels and learned new things, started cooking more,” she says.
There’s Adam Simon, for instance, who used to work in finance and recently walked through her door to turn his home bakery into a business. His newly formed company, Sourdough Gambit, is taking wing, selling out 300 baked goods each week, including Maple Cardamom Knots, Chocolate Malted Rye Cookies, and Cranberry Walnut Loaf.
“With us, they do it in a fiscally prudent way, not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to find out it wasn’t the right thing for them,” Gregory says, noting she charges below market rate. Access to a consortium of culinary and business partners and sales opportunities is free.
The Entrepreneur Incubator Space was founded in 2010. The 12,500-square-foot space is open 24/7 with three shifts that accommodate four or five startups at a time. Clients are all ages, from 14 to late 60s, and multicultural, she says. There is no time limit as to how long anyone stays but most outgrow it after two years. She estimates that 65 percent have gone on to make their food business a full-time job, some seeing revenue in the millions, others happy with $500,000. Even those who don’t go on to make it a career are not failures, she says, having gotten an education and valuable experience.
Kathrine, 69, is from upstate New York and did her own pivot after college at Hofstra University where she majored in psychology and special education. In 1976, to pay for her master’s degree, she got a job as a bartender and hotel manager in New Jersey and fell in love with the business. She never finished that degree.
Still, her studies served her well. “I found that I used my background in special education and psychology when dealing with staff and clients,” she says. From working with a foodservice organization that mentored women in the industry, she learned the challenges of fledgling caterers who didn’t have professional kitchens.
To help, she was part of a team in 1996 that opened an 1,800-square-foot incubator in Brooklyn which fit one client at a time. From there, she went on to work with several nonprofits, finding kitchens in churches and such that were not being utilized and initiating job training programs.
Her personal goal is to take the Entrepreneur Incubator Space nationwide, focusing on rural areas where farmers could use help gaining revenue through using imperfect blueberries to make jam and pie, for instance. Her grandparents were farmers so her mission has resonance. “The meaning is the part that’s important,” she says.