‘Garfield Park rules!’ as The Hatchery opens doors to food entrepreneurs in Chicago January 9, 2019

Deep-dish pizza. Hotdogs, hold the ketchup. Dipped beef sandwiches. These are the things that come to mind when people think of food in Chicago. But the city’s food industry also consists of some of the world’s most renowned restaurants as well as more than 4,500 food-and-beverage companies – including big names like McDonald’s, Conagra Brands, Kellogg, ADM, Kraft Heinz, and Oscar Mayer. With so many heavy hitters and long-standing Chicago food traditions, is there room for smaller start-ups and entrepreneurs?

The answer is a resounding yes, according to the founders of The Hatchery – a massive new food business incubator that held its ribbon-cutting ceremony in Garfield Park on Dec. 6. They hope the incubator will connect up-and-coming food entrepreneurs with food industry leaders who want to invest in new products and hire emerging talent.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a long-time champion of the West Side development, agrees.

“RX Bar, Farmers Fridge, TeaSquares, Half-Acre – those products all started in spaces like this and with entrepreneurs who had visions, ideas,” Emanuel said. “I have no doubt that, within less than a year, we will see the products being developed here in restaurants and on grocery store shelves.”

The 67,000-square-foot Hatchery complex provides spaces and services for about 100 start-up or early-stage food businesses – and is expected to support up to 900 jobs over 5 years. The facility features 56 food-grade kitchens, along with cold-dry storage, loading docks, and training spaces. Nearby community residents are also offered priority access to all of The Hatchery’s offerings; discounted rates on a variety of opportunities, including hourly rates in shared kitchens for those not yet ready to sign a lease; and free classes for both job seekers and aspiring entrepreneurs.

The facility is co-owned by two long-standing Chicago nonprofits – the microlender Accion Chicago and the business incubator Industrial Council of Northwest Chicago (ICNC).

IFF was an early partner to Accion and ICNC, serving as The Hatchery’s lead developer charged with pulling together parcels of land and pieces of financing to bring the project to the groundbreaking stage in November 2017. Additionally, IFF’s real estate solutions team has managed the on-site construction at the facility, which is located at the corner of Lake and Kedzie just off the CTA’s Kedzie Green Line station.

Financing the $32.4 million development required a mixture of tax credits, grants, and traditional financing, including:

  • $10.25 million in New Market Tax Credits (NMTC) from multiple sources, including PNC Bank, Community Reinvestment Fund, and the City of Chicago;
  • $7 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) subsidy from the City of Chicago;
  • Debt financing provided by Chicago Community Loan Fund, IFF, MB Financial, and PNC Bank;
  • Grants from Kellogg Co., ConAgra Foods, Walton Family Foundation, and others; and
  • The $1 sale of 12 vacant city-owned lots (which were combined with 9 other parcels of developer-owned land).

“So many people could have said, ‘No. It’s too risky. Not now. Not here.’ That didn’t happen. All of them said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ And that’s exactly what this is about – It’s about giving people a shot,” said Steve DeBretto, ICNC’s Executive Director. “We’re saying, ‘You want to start a business right here in Garfield Park? You deserve a shot. You looking for your first job? You deserve a shot.’”  

The Hatchery is the first small business incubator in Chicago that’s located outside of the downtown loop, and residents of East Garfield Park have welcomed the project.

“We’re putting the ‘neighbor’ back in the ‘hood,’ and we’re actually seeing something built in Garfield Park,” said Angela Taylor, the Wellness Coordinator for the Garfield Park Community Council, which was an early partner and collaborator on the project. “This one development is not going to fix everything that’s broken, but this is a true catalyst that will take Garfield Park where it should go.”

The mayor reminded event-goers that The Hatchery’s investors “aren’t doing it for charity” and that the food industry is “one of the most dynamic parts of our economy.” That’s probably why famed restauranteur – and native Chicagoan – Rick Bayless decided to open a new culinary training program at The Hatchery. Bayless said the 8-week intensive training-and-internship program could help bridge the gap between the unemployment rate among younger adults in Chicago and the restaurant industry’s need for skilled workers.

“Chicago has not only one of the most renowned food scenes in our country, but also some of the most generous chefs in the world,” Bayless said. “They want to not only give back to their community, but to be participants in their community.”

According to IFF CEO Joe Neri, “The Hatchery is the ultimate example of what can happen with authentic partnerships. Pulling this off has required community buy-in, nonprofit leadership, government support, private investment, and industry leadership. Without any one of those components, we wouldn’t be standing inside this remarkable facility today.”

Some wings of the facility were still under construction as of the ribbon-cutting on Dec. 6, but the owners expect it to be fully operational in early 2019.

“Garfield Park rules!” Taylor said. “There’s no stopping us now.”