Businesses grow; people connect at Hope & Main

There is a beauty in nonprofit entities that often goes unnoticed. It is the existence of a subsection of our economy that fuels other individuals and businesses and functions out of the limelight, at the infancy of an idea – a dream.  

Like many nonprofits entities, Hope & Main places great emphasis on community outreach.   

Consider Hope & Main, Rhode Island’s first culinary business incubator, operating out of a 100-year-old schoolhouse on Main Street in Warren. Hope & Main helps local entrepreneurs jump-start early-stage food companies and food related businesses by providing low cost, low risk access to shared-use commercial kitchens and other industry-specific technical resources.

Hope & Main’s goal is to help grow the local food economy by creating a community of support for food entrepreneurs and cultivating an environment where emerging culinary startups can test, create, scale and thrive. It is a place where food producers, farmers, fishermen and other industry members can connect directly with consumers, engage the community and collaborate with peers. Hope & Main features demonstration kitchens and classrooms, event spaces and a weekly market that provide a forum for access to local food products, workshops and training, experiential education, and other community programming. 

It is a space where food entrepreneurs can share their passion with the community and where the public can actively participate in the local food economy. The nonprofit incubator program supports dozens of food-related companies, including specialty food product makers, artisanal bakers, caterers, food trucks, farmers, personal chefs and nutritionists.

Founder Lisa J. Raiola, MPH, sees Hope & Main as a vital resource to any food entrepreneur, although it is a wide array of businesses that tend to seek them out.

“Companies that are looking for mentorship and guidance to scale up and grow are more common, however, we are also host to several established businesses that need extra space to keep up with demand or need a place for research and development,” said Raiola. “Even international companies have worked in our kitchens!”

Hope & Main comprises kitchens ready to host various types of processes. There are three air conditioned, certified commercial kitchens fully equipped. Member companies can reserve kitchen time 24/7, with access to various gas ranges, double convection ovens, a Doyon stone deck oven, four steam kettles, a piston fill machine, a smoker, a dough sheeter, and a proofer. The incubator also offers cold and dry storage, shipping and receiving, and use of packaging/labeling equipment.

“Community engagement is vital to the success of our mission,” said Raiola. “Not only is our facility right out on Main Street USA, but our organization’s mission is to help grow the local food economy, fostering a community of support for food entrepreneurs and cultivating an environment where these emerging businesses can create, test, make adjustments, pivot and ultimately thrive. We invite the community into the mix, directly connecting eaters with makers, and therefore narrowing the gap between what we buy and where it comes from. Food education is imperative to this process. We are helping people understand how and why small food businesses are worth supporting, resulting in more intelligent consumers.”

A direct byproduct of this community engagement is a positive boost to the Rhode Island economy. Hope & Main is a resounding success. 

“Since 2015, four out of every 10 new food businesses headquartered in Rhode Island are here at Hope & Main,” said Raiola. “In one year, we have created nearly 40 percent of all new food businesses domiciled in-state. In addition, we have created more than 80 new jobs and more than $1.2 million of revenue for the food economy in Rhode Island.”

Joe Farmer, CPA, and Principal of Farmer & First, PC, CPA's in Warren, has long been impressed by his neighbors at Hope & Main. Impressed, but not surprised. Farmer does a lot of work for nonprofits and serves on several nonprofit boards. He knows first-hand how important they are to the state’s overall economic health. 

“When I think of non-profits contributing to the local economy, I think first of our schools, universities and hospitals,” said Farmer. “Quite simply, Rhode Island could not function without its nonprofits. According to the Rhode Island Foundation, non-profits produced $8 billion and more than 18 percent of Rhode Islanders are employed by nonprofits. This is truly staggering. On a local level, the work Hope & Main has done in Warren as an incubator for growing food businesses is just breath taking.”

In his experience, Farmer sees the most significant challenge facing nonprofits the ability to maintain adequate staffing. To that end, it is especially rewarding to work with nonprofits to help them establish internal controls and to help them use their numbers to tell their story.

“The people who work in these organizations are an inspiration,” said Farmer.