YUMA, Arizona. – Arizona Western College teamed up with the Local First Arizona Foundation this summer to provide aspiring food entrepreneurs with the unique opportunity to grow their food business through a Restaurant Startup Boot Camp.
Participants enrolled in the first two cohorts of the new Yuma Food Businesses Incubator pilot program at no cost, thanks to a $145,000 grant from the Arizona Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and institutional funding. Of the applications received for the program, seven students were accepted into the first cohort, followed by five students in the second cohort. Future cohorts will be able to enroll in the program for a low cost through AWC Continuing Education.
During the four-week boot camp, up-and-coming culinary professionals received the valuable tools necessary to be successful with their startup food business. The classes were held in the Yuma Commercial Kitchen space at the AWC Yuma Campus and led by Local First Arizona’s Director of Food Programs Gabe Gardner as well as AWC Culinary Arts Professor Robert Gedeon and Chef Robert Nidiffer, who co-directed the Food Business Incubator program.
“By providing a low-cost, full-service kitchen space, we eliminate the need for small businesses to take on the debt of purchasing expensive equipment or signing a long-term lease. Instead, culinary entrepreneurs can focus on building a sustainable and profitable business,” said Reetika Dhawan, Vice President for Workforce Development and Career and Technical Education.
“Our incubation program gives food and beverage businesses a low-risk and low-cost opportunity to test, scale, and develop without the cost and liability of equipping, managing, and maintaining their own commercial culinary facility.”
The course is designed to help take local food businesses from ideation to marketplace. Students learn about food safety training; cooking techniques; food service purchasing and permitting; financing and marketing; front and back of house operations; food service logistics; day-to-day operations; and food service math. Each cohort equips the entrepreneur with analysis, expertise, and mentorship to help establish a food business and set them on a successful path. The Restaurant Boot Camp is a crucial first step in the incubation process for new food truck operators, caterers, food producers and packagers, and other food-related businesses.
The idea for this program came to fruition after grant funding became available and Dhawan reached out to leadership at the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation (GYEDC) to see what programs were needed in the community. GYEDC President and CEO Julie Engel suggested starting a food incubator, so Dhawan got to work making it happen. She accomplished this with help from AWC staff members who were the Co-Principal Investigators on the project: Director of Risk Management and Special Projects Sharon Register, Director of Purchasing Brenda Sawyer, and Director of Financial Services and Controller Michelle Landis. Members of the community who were also instrumental in getting this project started included: Prison Hill Brewing Company Owner and Yuma Commercial Kitchen Program Administrator Chris Wheeler; MGM Design Owner Matt Molenar; and GYEDC Senior Vice President Greg LaVann.
The AWC Workforce Development and Career and Technical Education division is providing funding for the next cohort of the program and is currently in the process of applying for additional grant funds to further grow this initiative.