Where small biz can get cooking

In the baking kitchen is Della Clark, president of the Enterprise Center- the nonprofit economic- development agency in West Philadelphia that created the Hamilton center.
In the baking kitchen is Della Clark, president of the Enterprise Center- the nonprofit economic- development agency in West Philadelphia that created the Hamilton center. (April Saul/Staff Photographer)

A new culinary enterprise center in West Phila. is a well-equipped incubator for foodie entrepreneurs.

Posted: September 21, 2012

Five years in the making, a commercial kitchen to help food entrepreneurs bring their products to market is about to open on the site of an abandoned supermarket in West Philadelphia.

The Dorrance H. Hamilton Center for Culinary Enterprises at 48th and Spruce Streets - backed by public and private donors and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and named in honor of the Campbell Soup heiress - offers roomy stainless-steel counters, restaurant-quality gas stoves, spacious walk-in refrigerators and storage, and commercial stand mixers in two traditional and two baking kitchens.

Right now, hundreds of local entrepreneurs are baking pies, bottling sauces, and making candy in their home kitchens, said Della Clark, who heads the Enterprise Center - the nonprofit economic-development agency based in West Philadelphia that created the Hamilton center.

Under health codes, it is illegal for them to sell those products.

Clark wants to give them a place to work and receive guidance in the business - an incubator setting where they can make products that are legal for sale. Among the amenities is a camera-ready kitchen intended for multimedia events and photo shoots. There also are locker rooms and showers, so flour-dusted cooks can make themselves presentable for business meetings.

Starting soon, it will be open for hourly rentals, 24 hours a day, through its website, philafood.org.

In addition to a $100 annual membership, members will pay $22 to $27 an hour, plus monthly fees for dry ($36), cold ($48), and freezer storage ($60). Members must possess ServSafe certification, product-liability insurance, and a food handler's license to use the kitchens.

Even with these requirements, Clark expects hundreds of people to "come out from under the radar." Not all entrepreneurs are operating illegally; some rent commercial kitchens, usually at higher costs.

The Center for Culinary Enterprises' goal is to launch or accelerate at least 10 food businesses. After it opens this month, it will employ 13 full-time and 32 part-time workers, including culinary professionals, administrative staff, and custodial workers. It hopes to train 100 high school students in restaurant and hospitality management annually, and place 50 people a year in culinary jobs locally.

The center's director, Delilah Winder, knows the joys and pitfalls of the food business, where she said she began 28 years ago "starting from a dream on faith."

Lauded in the 1990s with entrepreneur awards from such entities as the City of Philadelphia and the National Association of Women Business Owners, Winder created a string of soul-food stands whose signature macaroni and cheese won national praise from Oprah Winfrey. She owned the Old City restaurant Bluezette.

As Winder's empire grew, so did financial issues. Records show that the city filed tax judgments against her and her businesses, totaling $1.57 million. In February 2009, the city agreed to accept a $596,300 settlement to be paid over 65 months. But in 2011, about the time she closed the stands in Reading Terminal Market and 30th Street Station, she filed for bankruptcy protection; her Chapter 7 petition, wiping out debts, was discharged this month, according to bankruptcy court records in New Jersey, where Winder lives. Citing confidentiality, the city declined to say how much of her city tax debt had been paid.

Winder did not return a call for comment.

Saying Winder is an employee and not an officer of the center, Clark said Winder's taxes and financial situation have "no relevancy to the [center] except her culinary skills." Clark added that Winder is not responsible for the center's finances.

Among the clients expected is C&D Catering, whose owner Carl Lewis plans to use the space to develop his planned restaurant; he also will use the center's Retail Resource Network - which charges a sliding scale - to develop a business plan. Also planning to use the space is Dorinda Hampton, who produces and bottles a vegetarian protein drink called Irish Moss.

Two food businesses - Lahori Cuisine, a Pakistani restaurant, and Cafe Injera, an Ethiopian coffee shop and restaurant - will also be located on-site.

Contact Michael Klein at mklein@philly.com.

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