A gently falling rain did nothing to stop the excitement in the air at the Main Street School Friday morning, where more than 50 foodies, government officials, local business owners, farmers and supporters gathered to break ground on Hope & Main, Rhode Island’s first kitchen incubator.
Bristol resident Lisa Raiola, who for nearly four years has worked to get her $3.2 million project off the ground, finally took a step back and rejoiced that the hard work she and innumerable others had put in had finally paid off. The incubator will be Rhode Island’s first, and represents a turning point for the old school and Warren itself, she said, giving small time business people a chance to help shape their own economic destiny. But if not for the townspeople who believed in the vision she shared with her board, she said, all the work would have been for naught.
“We may have raised $3.2 million for this project but what Warren has given us is priceless,” she told the crowd.
All those who spoke before her Friday agreed. There were senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Jay Healy from the USDA — which extended Hope & Main a $2.99 million loan — and local town officials. One of the most enthusiastic speakers was Warren chef Joe Simone, who earned a stellar reputation for his Sunnyside restaurant on the Warren waterfront and serves on the incubator’s nine-member board of directors.
“I may be the vice chair of the board of Hope and Main, but what I really am is a business owner who’s excited about the opportunity to grow my business and watch my beloved town of Warren grow and reap the benefits of Hope & Main. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
Hope & Main will be an educational institution dedicated to teaching small-time food entrepreneurs how to produce, market and package their products for sale. From retirees who have good recipes for cookies to farmers who want to keep their products local, Hope & Main is geared toward local empowerment. Ms. Raiola noted that true innovation involves taking chances and watching the benefits percolate downstream. A chance taken by the USDA, she said, gave her a chance to open the incubator, and will give untold numbers of incubees the chance to make their dreams come true. All the while, Warren’s economy will benefit. At the same time, supporters see the old school as the hub of a local food movement — Sen. Whitehouse called it the “localvore” movement — that will bring in economic development and excitement beyond what the incubees themselves produce.
“What we’re doing here is renovating a building, giving it a second lease on life. Great food and restaurants are a large part of our culture and in turn, our economy,” said Senator Reed. “This will ultimately translate into jobs and opportunity and growth in our state, and that’s what we want to continue to support and enhance.”
Actual construction work is expected to commence in a few weeks, and will continue into early next year. For more about the project, and how to become an incubee, see Hope & Main’s website.