A lot of what we cover here at Edible East End is the stories of home cooks or bakers or spicy nut makers who decide to turn their passion into a business. And their endeavor is not an easy one. Our cookie maker needs to learn the law surrounding the sale of food and then find a place to make it that has been inspected and approved by the Suffolk County Department of Health. Some use restaurant kitchens during the off hours. Others go to the expense of turning part of their home kitchen into, essentially, a commissary. It’s enough to keep you up at night.
Janet Jensen of Riverhead knew the feeling. She had an idea for an energy bar that contained pure energy and none of the ingredients so many people are having trouble with, like gluten and refined sugar. In her own kitchen she came up with N.O.A. bars, which contain only nut butter, oats and agave. And then she ran into myriad other challenges—legal, technical, logistical and otherwise.
Luckily for her, Jensen was able to take advantage of the newly opened Agriculture Consumer Science Center that is a part of the Stony Brook University Calverton Business Incubator. The center has licensed and inspected commercial kitchens and provides technical assistance as well as general business management education. A training program with food distributor J. Kings is in the works.
Ground for the center was broken in October 2011, says Monique Gablenz, manager for the business incubator, and she soon expects to be open 24/7. Food entrepreneurs, after being licensed by the State Department of Agriculture and Markets and providing proof of insurance, will be able to reserve four hours at a time on the center’s Web site. Once inside, they have the use of one of two cooking lines that include two double-rack ovens that can handle 60 trays at once, a six-burner stove, two convection ovens, steamers, kettles and a brazier. Also in the center are a blast chiller, a blast freezer and walk-in refrigerators and freezers.
At the ribbon cutting of the center in October, Jensen’s gratefulness was palpable. “It’s like Oz in here,” she said. “I am so exited. I just needed some help, and they were here to give it to me.” So far, 15 businesses have applied to use the space, including bakers as well as makers of salad dressings, marinades, a seasoning rub and pickles. Most of the applicants are buying some or all of their ingredients on Long Island. Incubator manager Gablenz thinks this is just the beginning: “We haven’t even imagined the kind of products that will be produced here.”