“I’m very excited,” said Hope & Main founder Lisa Raiola of Bristol, Thursday. “I don’t think this is a victory so much as it is crossing the finish line. This has been over three years in the making.”
Hope & Main, a non-profit that plans to use the old school as a “school” where budding food service entrepreneurs can make products ready for market, closed on the sale of the old school building at Warren Town Hall Wednesday afternoon, after voters last fall approved the sale for $125,000. At the same time, Ms. Raiola and members of her board also signed paperwork that finalizes a $3 million low interest loan from the United States Department of Agriculture. About half of the money will go to renovate the building, and the other half will go toward equipment and other “soft” costs.
Hope & Main’s board has hired a contractor, Trac Builders of Johnston, to complete the work. The firm has experience building commercial kitchens and schools, and Ms. Raiola said a ground-breaking will probably be held in about three weeks.
The aptly named Hope & Main will transform the 17,500-square-foot school into a state-of-the-art workspace for food-related entrepreneurs and businesses. The renovation will include the installation of code-compliant commercial kitchens, classrooms, a business center, food processing areas, a demonstration kitchen and a 2,000-square-foot community room for events and seminars. A year-round town market will be located on the grounds to allow member companies and food producers, as well as local farmers and fishermen, direct access to local consumers.
The organization will support the food entrepreneurs with training and guidance, the use of commercial kitchens, processing and packaging systems, hot and cold storage, access to mentors and experts, office equipment and market/retail space. To date, more than 200 companies have expressed interest in seeking membership into the incubator program.
Ms. Raiola said the board hopes to start accepting applications from would-be “incubees” in the fall. She said the facility will be able to service about 50 incubees at a time. After the first class of 50 is enrolled, enrollment will be on a rolling basis, she said. Though incubees will be charged fees from Hope & Main, the amount has not yet been finalized.
Ms. Raiola said she is very thankful not just to the Town of Warren, but the USDA for taking a chance on an innovative, but unproven, concept.
There were about a million things that could have gone wrong” in the financing process, she said. “But it all went right. I can’t say enough good things about the USDA, the town and all the supporters we’ve had.”
To learn more about Hope & Main, see the non-profit’s website.