Prince George’s County may soon get its first culinary incubator courtesy of a government contractor-turned-coworking entrepreneur and her aspiring food truck-owner husband.
Samia and Chris Bingham realized there was a gap in the culinary incubator/commercial kitchen space in the county when Chris was trying to launch his own vegetarian food truck in 2016. The duo behind the newly launched Flavors Culinary Group live in Waldorf, so Chris was hoping to work out of Prince George’s, preferably somewhere in the central or southern part of the county.
But there were few spaces to be found — a few churches renting out space was pretty much it, said Samia. They decided to try to start one for themselves, but it was a tough sell for landlords. Instead, they opened a coworking space, CoWorx City in Waldorf, and let chefs and other food businesses come in and do pop-ups in the common area.
The message from these nascent caterers and other food business owners was clear: There is nowhere in the area to base their businesses.
“That started it again for us. We said, ‘We are going to have to close the space and actually get a commercial kitchen to support these food entrepreneurs. We have to shift this focus,’” said Samia, who is Flavors’ founder and CEO.
CoWorx closed in July so the Binghams could focus on Flavors. Samia, a former contract specialist for the Department of Defense, also still runs her own government contracting consulting firm.
And so they returned the food incubator to the front burner. They are actively looking at two different spaces near Landover, and hope to open the venue, which they’ve dubbed Flavors, by the fall of 2020. They’ve also launched a campaign called the “Founding 50” to try to land their first 50 members between now and the facility’s opening.
Chris, whose title is vice president and COO, is already out meeting potential members and Samia is working on the development of the actual venue, which she expects to cost about $150,000. She’s also working to establish relationships within the food world so that they’ve got the chops to help grow the businesses they serve, Samia said.
“We’re making those connections with the people that can help these entrepreneurs get into grocery stores, build their e-commerce platforms, so once our doors open, we’re ready to serve our members on a full scale,” she said.
Samia envisions a venue of between 13,000 and 24,000 square feet that combines a licensed commercial kitchen, office and event space, and virtual restaurant. On the latter, in addition to consumer-packaged goods companies and food truck operators as members, she expects some chefs and caterers to use the space to fill orders from online platforms such as Grubhub and Postmates.
The facility, which is being designed by Kendrick Richardson of RDS Architecture, will even have a pickup depot space to ease those driver pickups.
Flavors Culinary Group also has another element to it: a staffing firm. In addition to running the incubator, Samia and Chris will fill food-related jobs out of the new location, from staffing short-term gigs such as catering positions to long-term jobs such as line cooks and front-of-the-house jobs, Samia said.
The Flavors model is already gaining traction; in addition to bringing on one of her former investors from her coworking space days, Samia received a $14,000 investment from UPS through its UPS Store Small Biz Challenge.
Chris may even resurrect the food truck idea once the incubator is up and running. If he does, it’s Samia’s goal for Flavors to be able to offer him and its other members more than just “a bunch of great ovens,” Samia joked.
“The lessons I learned from my own coworking space was that small business owners don’t just need the space, they also need resources to be able to grow their business,” she said. “So we’re talking with Prince George’s County Economic Development Center about the needs of small biz owners, and specifically food entrepreneurs. It has to be more than just the space in order for them to be successful.”