Launch a food startup with free help from Queens FEASTS

By Faye Penn

Enterprising foodies who want to launch or grow a culinary startup in New York City can get the ingredients they need at Queens FEASTS, an entrepreneurship program that offers soup-to-nuts training and resources.

And it’s absolutely free.

The innovative program (FEASTS stands for Food Entrepreneurship and Services Training Space) is designed for individuals who are passionate about food but need logistical help to turn their startup plans into reality.

Queens FEASTS serves up a mixture of workshops, mentoring, and one-on-one advising. Twelve weekly sessions cover a range of topics from business planning to marketing, licensing requirements, food safety, pricing and more.

“Classes are intense, but they gave me all the knowledge and tools I needed to open my food business,” says Tavia Kowalchuk, an ice cream maker who started Bliss Street Creamery in 2017 after finishing the program. Since then, Kowalchuk’s small-batch artisanal ice cream has been featured at food festivals like Taste of Sunnyside and the Queens International Night Market.

From ideas to star startups

Half of the more than 100 participants who completed FEASTS have launched food startups since the program began in 2017. Several have won Vendy Awards and Good Food Awards or been featured at the NYC Wine & Food Festival and other high-visibility venues.

Queens Public Library and New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) began the program, which was originally named Jamaica FEASTS, to nourish financial growth in the Jamaica, Queens, community.

“FEASTS has played a pivotal role in providing training and business development support to the next generation of culinary entrepreneurs in Queens,” says NYCEDC President and CEO James Patchett.

Thanks to its success, the program was recently expanded to train 250 more food entrepreneurs by 2021, up from 100 already trained. Classes will now be offered in cohorts at four locations throughout Queens: the original site at the Central Library in Jamaica, Flushing Library, Long Island City Library and the Queens Library for Teens in Far Rockaway.

The deadline to apply online for the Jamaica and Flushing cohorts is December 20, and starting in 2020 Queens FEASTS classes in Flushing will include English language instruction for participants who are non-native English speakers.

Any New York City resident can apply to FEASTS, but preference is given to Queens residents. Applicants must be at least 18 years old with some cooking experience and an idea for a startup. Click here to stay up to date on info for future cohorts.

Serving the flavors of home

So far, the program has been a big draw for women entrepreneurs, who represent 75% of all participants.

Tress Walker founder of MumsKitchens NYC.

Tress Walker, founder of MumsKitchens NYC, is a lifelong chef who often cooked for friends and family. Nevertheless, she was among the first entrepreneurs to sign up for Queens FEASTS because she needed help to launch MumsKitchens NYC. The business provides a space for other “mums” like Walker to network, share different culinary backgrounds, and sell their wares.

“FEASTS gave me a clear roadmap to get my business off the road and running,” says Walker, whose specialties include codfish topped with a crowd-pleasing “Slap Yo Mama Cole Slaw.”

Walker isn’t the only woman at FEASTS selling food that’s based on recipes passed down through generations. Many women have built businesses around food suffused with the spices, scents and flavors of different cultures found throughout Queens’ richly diverse neighborhoods, says Monique Hector, manager of entrepreneurship programs at Queens Public Library.

“Their food is unique,” Hector says. “Their recipes have been passed down to them. Over time, it has attracted interest from others. Maybe they bring it to their kid’s childcare and someone says, ‘Oh! Can you make that for me sometime?’ So, they think about making it an official business. They can come to the library and get the help they need to get started.”

Their food is unique. Their recipes have been passed down to them. Over time, it has attracted interest from others.

Suin Park, founder of Forward Roots

Suin Park founded her kimchi sauce company, Forward Roots, in honor of her late mother and her family’s Korean ancestry.

“Every fall, my mother, her circle of friends and I made huge amounts of kimchi at home, enough to last our family for several months. But as I got older and too busy, she would supply me,”says Park, who used to work in IT and consumer electronics. “Now, I’m picking up where she left off. Creating this sauce not only connects me to my mother but allows me to bridge that link to my daughter. I’m taking my roots and passing it down to the next generation. Moving forward, I’d like to combine my kimchi flavors with that of other cultures, reflecting the influences of growing up in a diverse environment.”

Park is well on her way; Forward Roots sells traditional fermented kimchi sauce as well as a vegan version, which won a Good Food Award. Park’s kimchi chili oil was recently nominated for another Good Food Award.

Click here for more information and to apply to join upcoming Queens FEASTS cohorts.