After more than a year in the works, a new initiative designed to support local food entrepreneurs is set to open later this month at the McKeithan Center on Cape Fear Community College’s North campus.
Block Eatz will provide a commissary kitchen in a high-traffic area to the area’s budding restaurateurs. The concept is the product of a partnership between Genesis Block, a company founded by Girard and Tracey Newkirk to advance entrepreneurship in communities, and Cape Fear Community College’s Small Business Center.
Girard Newkirk described the forthcoming Block Eatz as an incubator for food entrepreneurs. In addition to providing the costly infrastructure – namely, real estate and a fully equipped commercial kitchen – required to get a venture off the ground, Block Eatz also offers mentorship and support to equip up-and-coming entrepreneurs with the skills they need to successfully maintain their businesses.
“We want to build a dynamic food entrepreneurship ecosystem that’s one of the best in the South. Block Eatz can be the foundation for that as far as the culinary training, the entrepreneurship development and providing kitchen capacity,” Girard Newkirk said.
Block Eatz is permitted as a shared-use kitchen as of last month, and the first round of vendors are currently securing their own permits that allow them to utilize the space. Once those permits are in place, Block Eatz will host a rotating crew of local food entrepreneurs. Each day, one of the entrepreneurs will be assigned to the space to develop their skills and serve their signature fare to customers.
“The days when that vendor’s operating it, it’s like it’s literally their restaurant,” Girard Newkirk said. In a nod to the space’s former use as a Port City Java, a coffee provider will also operate out of Block Eatz.
The vendors will spend six months or a year in residency at Block Eatz, Girard Newkirk said, during which time a business mentor and food service consultant will be assigned to each one to help them develop necessary skills.
“As they provide service, their mentor and consultant will be there as well to deliver more hands-on, experiential training,” he said.
Block Eatz allows Genesis Block to develop latent talent within an industry that already drives the local economy, Girard Newkirk noted.
“A lot of our strategy with Genesis Block is to leverage the existing assets in a community and try to build infrastructure to support entrepreneurship around something that’s already thriving,” Girard Newkirk said. “Obviously, here in our area, [it’s] tourism, hospitality.”
In fact, Genesis Block hopes to eventually scale the Block Eatz model with more food hall incubators and food production spaces across southeastern North Carolina.
“This is our first base. We have a vision to build a network of these spaces,” Girard Newkirk said. “We’re going to start here in the Cape Fear region, but we want to focus east of I-95.”
He predicts Block Eatz could have a particularly powerful impact in the rural, agricultural areas outside of Wilmington.
“We feel that’s the biggest opportunity, especially for minority-owned businesses, to get connected to entrepreneurship,” he said.
In the meantime, the first Block Eatz location on the community college’s campus is ideal, according to Girard Newkirk, as it will connect the venture to graduates of the school’s culinary program.
“Block Eatz here at Cape Fear Community College is perfect because we’re partnering with their culinary department to build a pipeline of food entrepreneurs as they come out of their courses,” he said. The community college is also committed to marketing the venture, an effort that will provide crucial publicity for the vendors as they launch their businesses.
Interested vendors can contact Genesis Block by emailing [email protected]
about next steps for securing a spot at the forthcoming Block Eatz.
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