Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there seems to be no slowdown in the cooking activities at Hatch Kitchen RVA.
One recent weekday morning at the commercial kitchen in South Richmond, a half-dozen or more of Hatch Kitchen’s nearly 70 members — all of them local food and beverage makers — were busy preparing a wide range of dishes and treats.
In the large, central kitchen area of Hatch — a shared cooking space used by the members — several of Hatch’s staff members, including its director of operations, Warren Haskell, were processing tomatoes to make Bloody Mary mix for one of Hatch’s members, Back Pocket Provisions.
At a stovetop nearby, Jim Hamilton, owner of Sous Casa, was stirring a huge helping of scrambled eggs for the burritos that his company makes and delivers in the Richmond area. The rest of the Sous Casa team was in a private kitchen area across the hall making hundreds of burritos.
At the next workspace over, Theresa Headen, owner of Elegant Cuizines, was putting together boxes of chickpea nuggets and Brussels sprouts to go to a local grocery store as a prepared meal offering.
Headen, who specializes in making vegan meals for grocery sales and catering, said her business has remained robust during the pandemic.
“Since there are not as many sit-down restaurants open, it is like we have become the sit-down restaurant,” said Headen, referring to demand for the company’s prepared meals.
“They make is easy,” Headen said of Hatch Kitchen. “I can get in here 24 hours a day to work on my business.”
A big expansion is underway for Hatch Kitchen, which serves as an incubator for small, startup food makers in the Richmond region.
Crews with general contractor M.L. Bell Construction are busy putting in additional kitchen, freezer, food packaging and storage and office space at Hatch Kitchen.
Hatch Kitchen opened in late 2018 as a co-working space for food businesses while also providing connections to local business mentors who can help food industry entrepreneurs. The goal of Hatch Kitchen is to fill a gap in services in the Richmond region for food businesses, said Austin Green, who co-founded Hatch with local entrepreneur Brad Cummings.
Hatch Kitchen started out with about 20,000 square feet of space in one of the buildings at the Clopton Siteworks, an array of 26 former Philip Morris USA storage warehouses on a 20-acre site just off Maury Street. The Clopton Siteworks is now being converted for commercial uses by Lynx Ventures, a local development company that is also a partner in Hatch Kitchen.
Lynx Ventures announced in September that 11 of the buildings in the Clopton Siteworks have been renovated and leased for many uses.
From its initial space in one of the Clopton Siteworks buildings, Hatch Kitchen is now expanding into two other buildings next door to the first one. It will have a total of about 50,000 square feet with the expansion.
Besides opening a new café in its first building at 2600 Maury St., Hatch also has opened six private kitchen suites, along with a new kitchen space designed specifically for bakery operations. The site also includes private offices and a conference room.
Next door to the first Hatch Kitchen building, construction crews are putting the final touches on renovations of the second building, which houses a new temperature-controlled butchery area, a USDA-certified facility to process meat-based food products that will be sold in stores.
Currently, the closest short-term rental for small producers in the meat business is in Maryland, according to Lynx Ventures.
The new facility also has a commercial wood smoker for meats.
“We have a client that is very serious about their barbecue and wood smoking, so we decided to get this for them to use,” Green said. “You can smoke something like 250 pounds of meat in here at a time. A lot of the indoor smokers that you see use pellets or sawdust, but not this guy. This is the real deal.”
Another room in the second building includes a new bottling and labeling operation for Hatch’s subsidiary business, Hatch Packaging. That room also includes a 150-gallon kettle for cooking, with room for additional kettles in future expansions.
“This is a co-packing operation,” Green said. “For instance, somebody could come to us with a sauce they have developed and maybe they need some help with making it, so we could make it.”
A significant part of the second building will be put to use by one of Hatch’s first members, the local gourmet ice cream sandwich company Nightingale Ice Cream Sandwiches.
The expansion will help support Nightingale’s ongoing national rollout of its products, which range from the classic brownie and vanilla ice cream sandwich to strawberry shortcake and raspberry white chocolate flavors.
Nightingale was founded four years ago by the husband-and-wife team of Xavier Meers and Hannah Pollack. The company is now offering nationwide delivery of its products on goldbelly.com.
The expansion at Hatch gives the company a large new kitchen space, more office space, dry storage, and a massive cooler and walk-in freezer area.
We are really happy to grow here because we love the project,” Meers said.
In a third building, crews are working on another space — about 6,000 square feet, which will be dedicated to Hatch Logistics, another business unit that helps members who need storage space for finished goods and supplies. Roughly a quarter of that space will be for rental freezer or refrigerated space.
“Years ago, I didn’t know that I was going to learn how to do property development, so that is a new thing for me and kind of exciting,” said Green, who before taking over as executive director of Hatch Kitchen was a co-founder of Texas Beach LLC, a maker of bottled Bloody Mary mix.
With Hatch, “I have learned a lot about how to build new kitchen facilities and bottling lines, all the different governmental regulations and all the different things that go into construction,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on business for some food makers that are members of Hatch, Green said.
“A lot of these are small businesses that might have only one or two employees,” he said. “Some people were affected personally. It isn’t just about your business. It is also about your family. Child care has become an issue now, too.”
“It did affect people, but there are some businesses here that are doing better than they ever have, because what they offer is now in demand more than ever,” Green said.
“We have actually seen an increase in new members coming in,” he said. “A lot of people have decided this may be the time to do that food concept or project they have always wanted to do, but for whatever reason they have not done it before. A lot of people have lost jobs, and so maybe now is the time to give it a shot.”
“There is always risk involved in entrepreneurship, but there is a certain amount of resiliency in working for yourself,” he said. “We help people with that here.”
William Miller and Megan Thomas have been using space at Hatch Kitchen since May to make simple syrups for cocktail mixes. Their business, Crescent Simples, sells the mixes in varieties such as lemon chamomile and blackberry vanilla online and at 23 retail stores in Virginia.
“At this point, we are doing quadruple the sales we were doing in February,” Thomas said. “It is continuing to grow, and I think it will continue to grow. People are still continuing to drink at home mostly.”
Hatch has been “extremely helpful and supportive,” Thomas said. “With them adding the co-packing facility and the bottling line, I would be interested in using that in the future.”
Another member at Hatch Kitchen is Joyebells Sweet Potato Pies, founded last year by Joye B. Moore, who uses a recipe handed down to her by her great-great-great-grandmother. Moore’s sweet potato pies are being sold in stores such as the Market @ 25th in Church Hill and Good Foods Grocery and soon will be sold at Food Lion stores.
Hatch Kitchen has been helping Moore scale up production of her pies, Green said.
Ellyn Hopper, the owner of Fat Rabbit Cakes, has been using Hatch Kitchen for several months to make the cakes and cookies that she sells.
“My business has been around for over as year, and I finally transitioned here, mostly because I needed more space,” Hopper said.
“There is focus on wedding cakes primarily for what I do,” she said. “I was doing this on the side along with another full-time job. It got to the point where I was ready to do this full-time and I just needed more space.”
“For me, the long-term goal is to have a bakery, but I am not going to jump into that just yet,” she said. “So Hatch is a great place to grow my own business and stand on my own two feet.”
Hopper described her business right now, during the pandemic, as “oddly enough, very good.”
“Maybe it is the whole comfort food thing, but my business has gotten pretty busy,” she said. “It has shifted gears a little bit. The wedding cakes have gotten smaller and fewer, but the other standard cake orders and other sales I do throughout the week are going quite well.”
“I moved into Hatch for the space, but being here with so many other entrepreneurs has been equally as beneficial,” she said.