It’s an agreeably warm early autumn evening, and the Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen (CCLK) is hosting their third annual fall showcase. Local darlings and newcomers to the food business are enthusiastically greeting the crowd and proudly offering guests samples of their latest creations. Attendees swarm around Maria Newman, Lisa Lutz, and Cathy Davis, the three sisters of MiaTerra Foods.
“We’ve really only been in the kitchen for a week,” explained Maria, as she refills a dish with roasted eggplant. “We’re from Akron, but we are first generation Italian-American,” Cathy says, “This is what we’ve been cooking and eating our entire lives, and so now we are sharing it with others.” The sisters nodded in agreement. When asked how and when they decided to start their own business, Cathy replies, “It all started with the Incubator program.”
With their 3,600 square foot shared kitchen, CCLK provides the space and resources for both new and established businesses to grow. Workshops like the 8–week Food Business Incubator program, offer classes on business planning, product development, and food industry regulation. In partnership with the Economic Community Development Institute, CCLK is a business incubator that supports entrepreneurship and innovation in the food industry.
“Everyone in the kitchen has been so helpful,” adds Lisa, as more hands reach for the toasted focaccia. “If we don’t know how to use a piece of equipment, someone is always willing to show us how. The other businesses are very supportive.”
At a nearby table, Carol and Erica Emeruwa, the mother and daughter behind Finally Ginger Artisanal Ginger Cookies, are discussing ingredients with their audience. “We use three types of ginger: fresh, ground, and crystallized,” explains Carol. The final product is a new take on the gingersnap; they are soft and chewy, sweet and spicy. But why ginger? Erica admits that she never like chocolate-chip cookies as a kid, so her mother experimented with ginger cookies. “They started off as Christmas gifts, and two years ago we started our business.” The hardest part about owning your own cookie business she explains is “having to come up with new ideas and flavors, but also finding the middle-ground. I may really like this flavor, but will others? We are still experimenting.”
Around the corner, Fred Stoldt of fRed Hot! is drawing a crowd with his seemingly boundless energy, and visible passion for his sauces, pickles, and spices, and for his growing customer base. “This one is made with the Carolina Reaper, which is two times hotter than the Ghost Pepper,” he explains, “I have nine hot sauces, steak sauces, BBQ sauce, and pickles.” When I asked about his experience in CCLK’s shared kitchen, Fred admits that in the past few years more people have been using the kitchen, making it harder to schedule a time slot at the station he needs. “But that means that more people are having success, and there are some great people in the kitchen. It’s the perfect place to network and connect with others in the industry. You learn a lot through word of mouth.”
The evening is a celebration of CCLK’s commitment to giving start-up companies the chance to answer the question, “what if?” What if I pursued this idea, passion, talent, pastime, and made it into a business? For more established businesses, it is providing the support and resources to grow and connect with others in the Northeast Ohio local food scene. All of the vendors have a unique story to tell about their product and for many, CCLK is an important chapter in their story.
“This is actually just my hobby on the side,” adds Fred. “Really?” I ask incredulously. He smiles, “Yes, I am actually a policeman.”
For more information about the Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen please visit their website: CleCulinaryLaunch.com