Collier County wants to reach out to farmers, local chefs and homemakers hoping to take their product or recipe to the next level.
Collier County wants to hear what aspiring culinary entrepreneurs’ needs are by asking them to take a short survey to help planners and builders tailor a state-of-the-art kitchen, food processing and packing facility geared toward their needs.
“I don’t think there is anything like it anywhere,” said Commissioner Tim Nance, whose district includes Immokalee. “It’s going to be great for people who want to get into fresh foods and food production. It’s going to give them everything they need. And it’s going to be a wonderful synergy between the Collier County economic development office and the University of Florida’s Southwest Florida Research & Education Center in Immokalee.”
Through a partnership between Collier County and local non-profit Economic Incubators, Inc., a 5,000-square-foot warehouse will be transformed into the Culinary Accelerator @ Immokalee, a place where aspiring entrepreneurs who want to transform their products into a profitable business as part of an 18-month educational and mentorship program. It will be designed for use by farmers and cooperatives, start-up food companies and home-kitchen entrepreneurs, but will also be available to mid-size food companies, retail and food service companies and commercial users.
“The driving force behind this project is to mentor, train and support food entrepreneurs by leveraging Immokalee’s abundant fruit and vegetable resources,” said Jace Kentner, interim director of Collier County’s Office of Business and Economic Development. “The accelerator will diversify our economy by providing the facility and resources needed to accelerate food product companies.”
Marshall Goodman, director of Collier County’s accelerators in Naples and Immokalee, says Immokalee is the perfect location for the culinary accelerator because of its farm resources, small local food businesses and proximity to Naples, which is known for its healthy lifestyle, love of food and growing locavore movement, which favors locally grown and made products.
“I think the locavore movement would be well-served by putting this facility at residents’ fingertips,” he said. “We can keep the costs down and provide equipment and services that normally would be out of the reach of a startup company.”
Danny Gonzalez, who manages Immokalee’s popular Lozano’s Mexican Restaurant with his wife, Sandy, plans to expand the restaurant and salsa business and hopes to be the accelerator’s first tenant.
“I’m excited,” Gonzalez said. “We want to push our sales when the snowbird season gets here. We get tons of customers. They buy salsa by the gallon and want to take it home. We just run out. We have to turn people away.”
Located in a renovated warehouse at the Immokalee Regional Airport, the accelerator will offer shared-use food processing space for a broad array of hot and cold products, as well as administrative office space for staff and clients. Future phases of the project include the addition of an alcohol distillation machine and an HPP machine, a hyperbaric non-heated pressurization process that will keep food fresher and safer longer. The accelerator is being designed to meet federal regulatory standards (FDA and USDA), as well as local and state regulations.
The Florida Legislature appropriated $2 million for the county’s business and culinary accelerators in Naples and Immokalee. The county also applied for federal grants, including a $112,536 USDA grant for the Culinary Accelerator @ Immokalee.
The county will offer scholarships, a variety of classes, food testing, certification training and workshops with local chefs. To help the businesses in the Immokalee accelerator expand into the next level of distribution, the accelerator also will offer a retail space to sell goods at the Naples Accelerator, located at 3530 Kraft Road, Naples, Florida 34105.
To complete the survey, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FloridaCulinaryAcceleratorEnglish for English, https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CulinaryAcceleratorSpanish for Spanish, or https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CulinaryAcceleratorCreole for Creole.
For more information, please contact Public Information Coordinator Kate Albers at (239) 252-8579.
The Immokalee Bulletin is published every Thursday.