April 22, 2013 Kathleen Callahan
A new business incubator has opened in the southern part of the state that’s aimed at helping small New Hampshire food businesses grow their operations and get their products into stores without having to invest in expensive infrastructure.
Since the beginning of April, Creative Chef Kitchens on Manchester Road in Derry has attracted the interest of food entrepreneurs who make everything from natural dog treats to flavored granola to meat marinades.
Owner Neelima Gogumalla said she decided to open Creative Chef Kitchens because of the challenge that food startups face when they begin to scale their operations. For many home-based food businesses that want to expand beyond the farmer’s market and begin selling in stores, the expense of opening their own commercially certified kitchens is too high, she said.
“They need to be in certified spaces where their buyers can actually sell their products. Not a lot of stores want to buy products that are made at home,” she said.
So the Derry incubator allows these entrepreneurs to rent space, cook their food and leave, letting them grow their business without any investment in infrastructure or overhead, said Gogumalla.
In addition to a conference space that fits 30, the incubator offers six cooking stations — each of which has a convection oven, range, a tilting skillet, tilting kettle and prep space — and three food processing stations, for packaging and labeling finished products. Renting kitchen space costs $25 per hour, and the conference room costs $50 an hour to rent for cooking classes.
With the incubator’s industrial-size ovens, people can bake something in two hours that may take a full day at home — an appealing prospect for people whose food venture is a secondary business, she said.
Gogumalla will also be a sort-of entrepreneur-in-residence, working with the business owners to help them with marketing, costs, and developing their business plans. In the future, the incubator will also partner up with SCORE and the UNH Cooperative Extension to offer business counseling and food safety classes.
She also envisions working with local banks that often field loan requests from inexperienced, would-be restaurateurs, who could use the incubator to gain experience in the food industry and test their market.
Derry issues its own food business licenses, and its licensing period started April 1, so many potential customers are still waiting for their licenses to be granted, said Gogumalla. About six people have already started using the facility, and more than 40 have expressed interest or are waiting for their licenses to come through, she said. Many of them make food — including mustard, hot sauce, chocolate, jams and jellies and cakes — while others are food instructors who will rent out the conference space for cooking classes.
Derry has its own health inspector, so each customer is required to be licensed by the town, to have a SafeServ certification and insurance. The incubator is certified for small commercial food preparation and is regularly inspected by the local health inspector.
Gogumalla said she thinks this is the first food incubator in New Hampshire.
Another farm and food incubator that was proposed in the Monadnock Region in early 2012 has since “fizzled out,” said Amanda Costello of the Cheshire Country Conservation District. “Unfortunately there was a lack of interest, and the cost made it prohibitive,” she said.
Gogumalla is confident that there is interest in Creative Chef Kitchens, especially with the growing interest in locally produced foods.
Although the incubator is only in its infancy, Gogumalla has many plans she’s batting about for the future. These include selling customers’ goods at a permanent booth at the Derry and Salem farmers markets; opening up a retail arm to sell the goods made at the incubator; and hiring a salesperson who would work directly with the customers to help get their products in retail stores.
For more information about the incubator, visit