Nonprofit group has plans to turn former pub into fresh-food hub
By Sean Barron
If all goes according to plan, many North Side residents will see a producer and keeper of fresh, organic foods move to their neighborhood.
Sweetening the deal will be the likelihood of full-time jobs, business opportunities and additional money for the local economy.
It’s the main package that promises to make up the Northeast Ohio Food Hub, a facility that will feature a shared-use commercial-kitchen incubator, explained Jim Converse, manager of the Northside Farmer’s Market.
“It’s a similar concept to the Youngstown Business Incubator,” Converse said recently, referring to the downtown nonprofit corporation designed to accelerate the growth, formation and success of technology-based businesses in the Mahoning Valley. “[Except] it’s food related, not tech related.”
The hub also is modeled after a successful food incubator that started in the late 1980s in Athens, Ohio, and has at least 110 businesses, he continued.
The facility will be in the former Penguin Pub building, 901 Elm St., on the city‘s North Side, and have about 4,000 square feet that includes a commercial garage, Converse noted.
The hub will allow food entrepreneurs as well as those with home-based food businesses to expand. It also will be for people who want to launch their ideas, he explained.
“It will be a low-cost way to try out a business idea to see if it works,” Converse added.
In addition, he said, the hub will allow retirees, teachers and others to make supplemental income.
The first of the food hub’s three phases will focus on baking and catering services in a licensed facility and should be in place by mid-June, Converse noted.
The main part of the second phase will be a flash freezer to freeze vegetables until they’re available during the growing season. Those items will be mostly for schools, hospitals and restaurants, he pointed out, adding that it should be operational by mid-2012.
The third part, to be ready by 2013, is a thermal-processing facility mainly for high-temperature canning, Converse continued. This will expand the shelf life of many jams, jellies and sauces for commercial distribution, he explained.
Converse said he’s working with the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. that among other things, is dedicated to planting community gardens on vacant city lots.
The shared-use hub facility also will provide extra money for the gardens and area farmers, he said.
Anyone interested in using the food hub or who wants further information is asked to call Converse at 330-518-6971.