The poor former tenants of Pilotworks’ Brooklyn just cannot catch a break.
This October their commercial kitchen space, which many depended on for their entire business operations, shut down with no warning. A supportive community rose up to support these stranded entrepreneurs, 175 of which had been working out of the Brooklyn Pilotworks location, but many struggled with the challenge of relocating their business.
Then a ray of sunshine seemed to peek out through the clouds. A few weeks ago Boston-based food research lab Chew announced that it was taking over the former Pilotworks Brooklyn location and turning it into a new food & beverage incubator called The Nursery. All previous tenants were invited to return and restart their businesses. The space, under new management, was set to reopen in mid-December, pending permit approval.
But all budding hopes were dashed when The Nursery tenants received an email from Chew founder Adam Melonas on December 18th with the headline “Unfortunate News” (hat tip to Edible Brooklyn). Melonas went on to write that “our plans to open Nursery at the former Pilotworks Brooklyn site will unfortunately not be moving forward.” According to Eater, the Chew team found issues during pre-inspection and came to the conclusion the former Pilotworks location wasn’t up to par with the company’s standards.
While I don’t know details about the facility or Chew’s exact motivations for shutting down this project, I do know it’s a major bummer. Pilotworks’ tenants — most of whom are budding food entrepreneurs hustling hard to turn their business from dream into reality — have been jerked around a lot of late, and it seems like Chew should have maybe figured this all out before they promised to revive the space.
Gripes aside, this news shows just how tough it can be to make the commercial kitchen business sustainable. Thankfully tools like the Food Corridor and Cookitoo exist to help connect small-scale food producers with local shared kitchen spaces. But even so, those resources can’t guarantee that the commercial kitchen spaces on their list won’t also run into issues and shut their doors.
It’s not all darkness and despair, though. Last week Hudson Kitchen signed a lease to open a shared-use commercial kitchen space in South Kearny, New Jersey, not far from Pilotworks’ former Newark location. This may seem like relatively small news, but it’s still a sign that the demand for food business incubators is still very much there — and that companies are working to meet it.