I have a love of learning and a tremendous respect for people who know what needs to happen and know how to get it done. In that regard August 12th was one of my most inspiring days ever. I was among the Greats. My beckoning muses.
Research is one of my favorite games, and with my primary focus shifting to the culinary incubator that will be the heart of the Food Innovation District… all signs directed me to Washington, DC. The capitol in more ways than one.
There were three businesses plus a quick bonus stop on my radar to tackle in a day. Which is no minor feat in DC traffic. And there was no way I’d miss finding good food. I love that kind of strategic planning.
A few email exchanges, a caffeinated session with Bing Maps and dates with a train and a hotel made, the day was planned. My partner in detective work – Greg Pappanastos of Argos Real Estate Advisors – picked me up on Wednesday morning in a Black Dodge Challenger that was deemed “The Beast.” And we also used Uber. Sometimes it is better to let the locals do the driving.
Our first stop… OK, second stop after a bacon cornmeal cheese muffin at a local bakery we spontaneously discovered… on our journey to get schooled was the Mess Hall. Open less than a year, Al Goldberg and his team of two have turned a warehouse into a mecca for budding food entrepreneurs, chefs wishing to do cooking demos and folks seeking event space. He’s got a great relationship with Union Market and has been partnering with them on events that give food entrepreneurs a chance to compete for opportunities and resources. It was an amazing intro to the incubator scene in DC.
Next stop and a must-do for me when I am in DC was Union Market for a quick peek at their Loading Dock event space and LUNCH at TaKorean. Pay attention to that later.
Then we had a tour of all three of Union Kitchen’s facilities – one that is slated to open next week. One is a grocery store. The first location opened nearly three years ago in a hard-to-find warehouse in NoMa. Their front door faces an alley that is constantly buzzing with activity though there is practically zero parking. One of their mottos is “Build the community you want to live in.” I heard that message about community over and over.
Which makes total sense. People in a community look out for each other. They want their neighbors to succeed. They are bought in. They grow businesses like TaKorean – who have had almost three successful years at the Union Market – without the overhead of a kitchen. Union Kitchen provides an environment where small businesses can grow.
They serve their members with mentors, distribution, collaborative purchasing power, and a grocery store, among other things. And they are busting at the seams. All in less than 3 years.
After a breather to regroup, we made one last stop at Eats Place, a quaint restaurant incubator in a surprising part of town. Not much to see there but friendly faces and good locally sourced beverages, but it is a great concept.
Then came dinner at Nora. Strategizing. Downloading. Decompressing. Sharing delightful bites of the most lovingly prepared local organic food in the DC area. Really. Their drink specials were made with a locally distilled gin, and I don’t even like gin. But I loved it infused with elderflower, cucumber and citrus bitters.
And then there was the morning after.
I decided to travel to DC and back by Amtrak. Just don’t. Unless you have endless patience, a loaded Kindle, and… well, you love trains. I did make a new friend on the way home who might just be interested in producing his grandmother’s salad dressing recipe in the culinary incubator. So maybe I should be counting my blessings because you never know where they are going to turn up.