Oakland, CA

Bay Area chef launches incubator for Black restaurants in West Oakland

Built in the Bay

(Sean Gallup / Getty Images)

By Ian Firstenberg

(OAKLAND, Calif.) Bay Area chef Reign Free opened an incubator for Black-owned food and beverage companies in West Oakland called the Black Culinary Collective.

The onsite marketplace allows for companies to reduce their costs while still working closely with other Black-owned businesses and the fully commercial kitchen is well-suited for industrial volume.

Additionally, the collective will help business owners connect with Oakland's Black Business Fund for extra financial support. The collective also facilitates connections between business owners, consultants and mentorship programs.

Luckily, the collective is starting with an influx of cash to support local culinary artists early on. The 5,000 square foot commercial kitchen will allow smaller restaurant groups to establish a name for themselves without costly overhead during a pandemic. Free received $50,000 from the city's Black Business Fund and is contributing her own money to help the collective get off to a succesful start.

With the money Free is contributing and the additional money from the Black Business Fund, the collective will be able to subsidize 10 members for about six months. Free, however, intends to keep fundraising to allow members a year long incubation period, after which they can leave and another class of young restaurateurs will come in.

Initially, the massive kitchen space was used for her catering company, Red Door Catering, but because of pandemic economics, events and party planning became far less profitable. She found a unique and helpful way to put the kitchen space to use.

“I definitely have skin in the game,” Free told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’m really putting everything so they’re successful. If they’re successful, then my hope is they reach back for someone else.”

The collective has been compared to other incubation spaces like Epic Ventures Test Kitchen run by the Black Food Collective. It opened during the pandemic to help support Black-owned restaurant ventures with a commercial kitchen space.

As of early May, the collective has five members including tea company Teas With Meaning, navy bean pie bakery Baby Bean Pie and barbecue sauce producer the Final Sauce. Free hopes that by August the collective can open for the community and eventually even sell produce.

Free's wealth of knowledge as a caterer will also be put to good use in the form of branding and marketing classes for new business owners. The classes are free, and only require a commitment from young owners that they will work on a community service project once a month.

The collective is located at 2925 Adeline St, Oakland.

“I’m hoping to inspire others to see people, to go beyond your station,” she said. “A lot of times we just work in our bubble and we don’t really take time to see and help other people. I’m actually looking forward to learning a lot from them myself.”

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