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The Hatchery, a $34 million food/beverage incubator, opens in East Garfield Park

Rick Bayless

Chef Rick Bayless' Topolobampo restaurant took home top honors at the James Beard Foundation Awards on Monday night. | Shia Kapos/Sun-Times

Food and beverage entrepreneurs like those who have wooed investors on the hit TV show “Shark Tank” will now have the shared space to pursue their dreams in Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood.

And celebrity chef Rick Bayless will make it even better by offering a training program for aspiring chefs.

A $34 million food and beverage incubator known as “The Hatchery” — with shared kitchens, storage and office space for roughly 100 start-ups — opened Thursday on what once was a vacant lot at Lake and Kedzie, near the Kedzie station on the CTA’s Green Line.

The 67,000-square-foot facility is a partnership between Accion and the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago.

It’s equipped with 56 private food-grade kitchens, five shared kitchen bays, dry-cold storage and loading docks for distribution and food trucks.

The Hatchery rendering

The Hatchery, a food and beverage business incubator with shared kitchens, storage and office space for roughly 100 start-ups, has opened on what had been a vacant lot near the Kedzie Green Line station. | Wight & Co. rendering

There’s also office space and a “full suite of business incubation services” to support small business owners and host networking events and classes.

That’s where celebrity chef Rick Bayless’ Hatchery-based “Culinary Core Institute” comes in.

It will include an “eight-week culinary-intense training” program for aspiring young chefs that ends in a month-long internship at “one of our city’s world-class restaurants,” Bayless said.

“It’s our goal to train 80 students a year and place every single graduate into a job in Chicago’s restaurant industry,” Bayless said.

The goal is to bridge the gap between a staggering 81-percent unemployment rate in parts of the West Side among young people ages 18-24 and the “incredible need” for skilled labor in Chicago restaurants, he said.

Bayless almost always bubbles over with enthusiasm when he talks about the restaurant industry he loves. But he felt that way, and then some, when he walked through the Hatchery.

“I am, first and foremost, an entrepreneur. And I have to say that walking through the shared kitchen over here is one of the most exciting things that I’ve done in a really, really long time because I see so much hope. And there is nothing more exciting than to be surrounded by people who are hopeful,” Bayless said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel noted that The Hatchery is Chicago’s only business incubator outside the downtown area and the first in a food industry he said is “one of the most dynamic parts of our economy.”

Two years ago, Bon Appetit Magazine called Chicago the best restaurant city in America.

“I have no doubt, within less than a year, that the products that are being developed here we will see in shelves in grocery stores. We will see in restaurants in the city. And we will see entrepreneurs that take their dreams from their kitchen into the restaurants and retail parts of the city. There’s no doubt about it,” Emanuel said.

Site of The Hatchery, a food business incubator in East Garfield Park

The Hatchery, a food business incubator in East Garfield Park, was built on this vacant lot next to the Kedzie station on the CTA Green Line. | Google Streetview

During Emanuel’s tenure, Chicago has become a magnet for food company headquarters. Two of those companies — Conagra and Kellogg — are corporate partners of The Hatchery.

“They’re not doing it as a charity. They’re not doing it as a one-time. They’re investing because they know their bottom line depends on finding the next, next thing right here. It’s gonna come out of Hatchery,” Emanuel said.

“Think about this: RX Bar. Kellogg bought `em. $600 million. Elements on `Shark Tank.’ Farmer’s Fridge, TeaSquares, Half-Acre all came out of shared kitchens.” Those products started in “spaces likes this,” Emanuel said, and with “entrepreneurs who had visions, ideas.”

Plans for the Hatchery were announced in July 2017; and although it was a labor of love for many, it wasn’t easy to put together.

It required a patchwork quilt of city support that included: a $7 million tax-increment-financing (TIF) subsidy; the sale of a dozen vacant parcels valued at $150,000 for $1; and $1.75 million in New Market Tax Credits. The city’s 2.6 acres were combined with nine other developer-owned parcels.

Another $8.5 million in New Market Tax Credits were provided by PNC Bank, the Community Reinvestment Fund and others. Debt financing provided, in part, by PNC Bank and MB Financial filled in the gaps.

“So many people … could have said, `No. It’s too risky. Not now. Not here.’ That didn’t happen. All of ’em said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ Because that’s what this is about. … It’s about giving people a shot,” said Steve DeBretto, executive director of ICNC.

“We’re saying, `You want to start a business right here in Garfield Park? You deserve a shot. Are you looking for your first job? You can give it a shot here. People ready to go back to work, but maybe nobody will hire them because, 10 years ago, they got picked up for possession? They deserve an honest paycheck, too.’ There are so many ways this incubator can help people as they build their dreams.”