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(RI Monthly) – Get ready, local foodies and food-preneurs: Hope & Main, the state’s premier culinary business incubator, is planning to expand its reach from the East Bay to the Creative Capital with two major moves.
First, the Warren-based business will debut a new Downtown Makers Marketplace in the heart of city’s Financial District sometime in early 2023. Filling out the ground floor of the Paolino Properties’ office building on Westminster Street, the new breakfast- and lunch-focused eatery slash local market will offer hand-crafted and locally sourced made-to-order items, grab-and-go hot and cold foods, corporate catering, plus, of course, a curated selection of Hope & Main members’ products and prepared foods. The Downtown Makers Marketplace will also feature a coffee, tea and craft beverage bar anchored by the Hope & Main member-turned-popular Providence tearoom, Schasteâ.
The Marketplace is designed with Hope & Main’s culinary creators in mind, aiming to highlight their budding businesses. As part of an innovative incubation program to test-drive new food ideas, these entrepreneurs will prepare and sample items representative of their offerings and unique food heritage from places like Ethiopia, Trinidad, Israel, Mexico, Cambodia and the Philippines.
“The Hope & Main Downtown Makers Marketplace is a place dedicated to showcasing the enormous talent of our emerging and iconic member businesses,” says Hope & Main president and founder, Lisa Raiola. “We have launched more than 450 food businesses in nine years. This project is about giving our diverse community of food-preneurs access to markets and consumers they could not otherwise reach. It is very costly for new brands to find their way to grocery store shelves or onto menus of established restaurants, and that makes it challenging for them to scale. We know how good these products are and can’t wait to accelerate the success of these makers.”
One of the venue’s goals is to create opportunities for visitors to explore the diverse foodways that are defining the state’s ever-growing culinary landscape. In fact, the Papitto Opportunity Connection — a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to listening and working together with Rhode Island’s Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities — was initially drawn to invest in Hope & Main’s latest venture because forty percent of the nonprofits entrepreneurs are founders of color. From the moment founder Barbara Papitto stepped into their Warren kitchens, she says she understood how the incubator’s affordable and accessible shared use space is transforming what is possible for entrepreneurs of color.
“I walked out of there with armloads of products and food that I knew I wanted to share with more Rhode Islanders,” she says. “The Papitto Opportunity Connection believes that the ability to launch a sustainable food business is a vital path to economic mobility, particularly for immigrants and refugees, because it is familiar and feels attainable. We want to support these entrepreneurs to make their dreams a reality. Hope & Main lowers the barriers to this complicated journey, and the Downtown Makers Marketplace will offer another innovative channel to promote these small businesses and help them to grow and thrive. We are proud to support this project.”
Over the past two years, Hope & Main has also felt the pull of increasing demand for kitchen time from aspiring food-preneurs.
“Post-pandemic, we’ve seen a surge of folks leaving traditional food service jobs seeking to create their own food businesses,” says Raiola. “About half of all these inquiries are coming from the Greater Providence area, and many are from members of historically underserved communities. We want to meet these entrepreneurs where they are, and that means building additional shared use kitchens in the city.”
Hope & Main is currently in negotiations to acquire a facility in the West End of Providence where it can establish three new shared-use kitchens. The nonprofit also hopes to use the space for additional build out kitchens for Hope & Main graduates. These new kitchens (in addition to the original Warren location) would contribute to the Downtown Makers Marketplace.
From the beginning, former Providence Mayor and owner of Paolino Properties Joseph R. Paolino Jr. has been a key collaborator on the project, helping to convene the various partners and ensure that Hope & Main has all the necessary resources to turn it into a reality.
“The Downtown Makers Marketplace is a fresh idea that will engage workers and tourists alike in Rhode Island’s food start-up culture,” he says. “The opportunity to partner with Lisa Raiola, a true visionary in this space, and the Papitto Opportunity Connection on a concept that is ‘more than a marketplace,’ is a game-changer — not just for our building but for the economic development of the downtown financial district. As people return to the office and travel resumes with gusto, people are seeking new amenities, healthy food options, and captivating experiences. Hope & Main Downtown Makers Marketplace accentuates our State’s greatest assets: our ability to collaborate and create great food, while also serving the needs of our community. I couldn’t be prouder of this endeavor.”
Raiola is likewise looking forward to what each of the new developments has in store for the city.
“Since the day we opened our doors in Warren nine years ago, people have asked us two questions,” she says. “Why doesn’t Hope & Main have a market and why don’t you have kitchens in Providence? Now, with the good help of the Papitto Opportunity Connection and Paolino Properties, we can check both boxes.”
You can follow the progress of the Hope & Main Downtown Markers Marketplace at https://bit.ly/DTMPLaunch to find out more about featured makers, menus, and marketplace offerings.