Brooklyn’s most well-known meals incubator was abruptly shut down
In a pilotworks kitchen.
Photo: pilot work
The goal of a food incubator is to give operators the opportunity to realize their culinary dreams without bearing all of the costs associated with starting a small business from scratch. Resources and space are shared and a community of like-minded people develops. When it works, everyone wins: businesses grow and customers have more choices of great things to eat. But over the weekend, Brooklyn’s most famous incubator, Pilotworks, closed without warning, leaving nearly 200 operators – some of whom quit their full-time jobs to pursue their food projects – to find out what they will do next.
“Our mission was to be a POC, women company focused on amazing vegan goods,” says Adam Keita, who runs vegan baked goods company Vagaband Kitchen who joined Pilotworks in June. “Shutting down so suddenly not only hurts everything we’ve worked for, but also harms the business we do, and it shows how these kind of big companies can trample us.”
Located in the old Pfizer building on the Bushwick / Bed-Stuy border, Pilotworks started out as Brooklyn Foodworks in 2016. The group provided business acumen for beginners: mentoring, events, networking and access to a commercial kitchen for a monthly membership fee. The 175 small food businesses (which include favorites like Aurias Malaysian Kitchen, Woldy Kusina Catering, Brins Jam, and Brutus Bakeshop) were denied access to the kitchen on Saturday afternoon. Pilotworks emailed that evening to announce the closure “after failing to raise the capital required to continue operations”. Members now have limited access to collect their belongings for the next three days and no one will be able to enter the building after Friday. (Pilotworks did not provide anyone to speak to Grub Street and the social media accounts have also closed.)
The timing is especially brutal for members preparing for the holidays, which can represent up to 40 percent of their annual income. (The move is also a blow to the grocery store owners who rely on these products to store their shelves.) Many were also surprised, as TechCrunch reported that Pilotworks raised $ 13 million in funding (including Investment by Campbell’s Soup Co.). “Pilotworks has been a vibrant, thriving, community-focused kitchen space for all types of food business owners over the past year,” said Thi Lam of Coffee Maker Keepers Co., which left Pilotworks before it closed.
Some companies that have made shelf stable products can sell their remaining inventory, but groups that focus on fresh food are less fortunate. Many talk about what they can do together to help companies in trouble. Hot Bread Kitchen has offered its hotline to connect these businesses with new jobs, and Hana Kitchen, another commercial kitchen based in Brooklyn, is offering discounted space pricing. Meanwhile, Pilotworks members are also looking for reasons for this sudden shutdown.
“Instead of using the $ 13 million to make sure they work properly in their existing locations, they decided to expand,” says David Roa of Superlost, a CBD-focused company within Pilotworks. “It was careless and irresponsible for them to do so, considering that hundreds of companies depend on their facilities for a living.”