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Allen Neighborhood Center fosters culinary creativity

November 6, 2023
<p>Deep fryers that were used to make egg rolls earlier in the day at the Incubator Kitchen inside of the Allen Neighborhood Center on Nov. 1, 2023.</p>

Deep fryers that were used to make egg rolls earlier in the day at the Incubator Kitchen inside of the Allen Neighborhood Center on Nov. 1, 2023.

With nine years of experience, the Allen Neighborhood Center Incubator Kitchen Program has been the leading cause of success for numerous start-up businesses. 

Located on Kalamazoo Street in Lansing, the kitchens equipped with cooking and packaging essentials, offer a more cost-effective alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar establishments, catering to a range of culinary ventures from food packaging to Peruvian cuisine, director of the kitchen Matt Jones said. 

The kitchen allows businesses to use a fully-functional kitchen to sell or cater to the public, instead of using their own facilities in the start-up phase of their business.

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Set to open in early January, Tantay will become one of Lansing's pioneering Peruvian restaurants, all thanks to the Allen Neighborhood Center.

Tantay owner Jose Aste said the restaurant has thrived under the program's guidance, particularly in the accelerator kitchen. In 2019, Tantay started with the incubator kitchen program before moving to the accelerator kitchen in 2021.

The accelerator kitchen offers greater operational flexibility. Businesses pay on a monthly basis and are responsible for minor details, such as procuring their own cleaning supplies.

By allowing businesses to pay on a monthly basis, it brings them one step closer to transitioning into a full-fledged business. It also allows businesses to sink into economic stability, Jones said. 

There are currently 15 businesses using the kitchen and 10 businesses that are considered "graduates" of the program, which have moved to their own brick-and-mortar establishments.

Aste says his restaurant’s inspiration comes from his culture, heritage and love for cooking. His business strives to showcase Peruvian culture in Lansing while promoting fair wages and a positive restaurant environment.

"I want to create a place where my workers want to work," Aste said. "Where they come in wanting to learn, wanting to cook, and wanting to create."

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The Allen Neighborhood Center assists businesses by guiding owners in comprehending profit and loss, offering guidance on managing fair wages and creating conducive work environments to ensure their business's sustainability.

Programs like this help bridge the gap of economic disparity seen in the restaurant industry while uplifting restaurants to be the best they can be, Jones said.

By starting in the incubator kitchens, the Tantay team had more opportunities to be creative. Without worrying about supplies or keeping the building afloat, Aste and his team dedicated their focus on playing with different ingredients and meals. Aste said this opened them up to a variety of opportunities to expand and grow in ways that aren’t offered in any other place.

On top of the accelerator kitchen, the incubator kitchen is an easier, lower-risk option for businesses. It’s a popular option for catering businesses due to its by-the-hour model. The accelerator kitchens come with basic supplies and requires minimal clean-up by renters, Jones said. 

Sebastian Pham, the owner of Handheld Food Co., an Asian-American street food business, said the Incubator Kitchens Program is community-centered and maintains strong connections with community programs, partnerships with local farmers and businesses.

The Neighborhood Center also provides seminars, events and educational workshops for businesses to grow. These educational resources are what Pham loves most about the center.

"The Allen Neighborhood Center has been a huge support system and lifeline that’s helped me and my company grow and develop consistently and effectively," Pham said. "They’ve given me the resources and tools to set me up for success."

Handheld Food Co. is a recent addition to the program, but shares the same positive regard for the incubator kitchens as Tantay.

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"Handheld is a chef-driven, community-centric food company that aims to enrich lives and inspire individuals through our passion for food, delectable experiences and community engagement," Pham said. 

Handheld Food Co. opened in May and serves food inspired by Pham’s Vietnamese and French Canadian cultures. Aiming to provide quality and delectable experiences to all their customers, Pham began working with the Incubator Kitchen Program after stumbling across it.

Jones and Pham were old friends and after reconnecting, the rest was history. 

Pham said since Handheld Food Co. joined the program in July 2022, it has been an incredible journey of discovering and crafting recipes, engaging with the community and learning the ins and outs of business ownership.

The Incubator Kitchen Program even expands beyond the kitchen facilities, helping connect businesses with the necessary recourses like proper food licensing on both local and state levels, events to grow as a business and seminars.

"I believe you’re more likely to succeed as a business by starting in the incubator kitchens," Aste said. "Without them, I don’t know where I’d be."

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