Andrew Cebulka

The initial investment is greatly reduced, or virtually eliminated, in shared venues.

Food Halls, Culinary Incubators Help Chefs Get an Early Start

Chef-driven food halls and culinary incubators are opening around the country, enabling aspiring restaurateurs to test concepts with considerably less risk than opening their own place. The initial investment is greatly reduced, or virtually eliminated, because capital-intensive areas like commercial kitchens are shared. 

In Charleston, South Carolina, tenants at the recently opened Workshop share a fully equipped kitchen, but each concept has a separate storefront, ranging from 300 to 800 square feet. The dining area is also shared, with indoor and outdoor seating for more than 300 guests. 

Owner Michael Shemtov says Workshop is the perfect showcase for budding ideas from people with food trucks or for operators from outside Charleston who are considering the market. “Building a restaurant can take two years or longer and cost north of $500,000—and there are many risks along the way,” he says. “At Workshop, it costs a few thousand dollars and takes a few days to go from zero to open-for-business.”

Restaurant Butcher & Bee, with locations in Charleston and Nashville, Tennessee, manages the space. Early tenants include Juan Luis, led by pitmaster John Lewis; a wood-fired pizza restaurant, Slice Co., from New York City chef Todd Lucey; and JD Loves Cheese, led by Butcher & Bee executive pastry chef Cynthia Wong.

Similar incubators have opened around the country: Baltimore’s R. House provides space for 10 chefs and seating for 300; Smallman Galley in Pittsburgh has four kitchens, seating for 200, and brings in new chefs every 12 months; and Foodworks plans to open incubators around the U.S., with the first in Brooklyn, New York, and Providence, Rhode Island.