Coming soon to Brookland: Mess Hall, a culinary incubator with commercial kitchen and event space available to the city’s ever-growing cadre of wannabe food entrepreneurs.
The incubator is the brainchild of Al Goldberg, a former corporate catering manager and current water systems salesman, who started thinking about launching a small business incubator after seeking in vain for space to open his own catering business a few years ago.
The 10,000-square-foot warehouse at 703 Edgewood St. NE, designed by DBMC Design LLP, will include several commercial kitchen spaces, storage and office space available to incubator members — be they food truck operators, hobbyist bakers trying their hand at going pro or full fledged catering operations.
There will also be a large “front of the house” area, including a demonstration kitchen and space for events such as cooking classes, product launches or private parties.
The buildout will cost between $1-$2 million, financed in part from Goldberg’s own savings, as well as a small business loan from EagleBank and an $85,000 Great Streets grant from the District.
Goldberg expects to be able to accommodate up to 100 members in the space, depending on the size of their businesses. To ensure things work smoothly with so many moving parts, he’s designed a proprietary system — he’s largely mum on those details — that will govern usage of the incubator’s resources.
But other than the system, there’s one rule he expects to guide Mess Hall’s ethos.
“Rule number one has to be a ‘no assholes’ rule,” he said. “I’m not going to ask you for sugar unless sometime before, I offered you some flour. It has to be a community.”
He said Mess Hall had a lot of interest from potential members, but it’s not officially accepting membership applications until June — which is when he will also outline the pricing for membership in more specificity.
“The pricing is going to accommodate everything from a sheer startup to a business that is more senior,” he said. “We’re also going to be able to get people in here on a temporary basis.”
Mess Hall will provide more than just space. Goldberg anticipates collective buying for common ingredients, Mess Hall catering gigs that will give members another revenue stream and, eventually, collective product distribution. Down the road there may even be a collective rooftop garden.
“Members are only making money when they’re here making, or when they’re out selling,” he said. “Everything else they have to do for their business doesn’t turn into dollars and cents.”
A self-described “small business guy,” he also hopes to establish a board of connected industry veterans to help guide new businesses, as well as deploying his own connections after 14 years in the D.C. region catering and sales businesses.
“Since so many of my relationships are still in the corporate world, I want to make those opportunities available to my members,” he said. “An incubator is so much more than just space.”