Credit: Darrow Montgomery/file

When Krishna Matturi was growing up in a small South Indian village he couldn’t know that decades later he’d be in D.C. selling chips and dips that draw upon the flavors of his childhood. The avid runner craved preservative-free post workout snacks, and saw the opportunity to start a business called Sasya Foods. 

But how does someone who also works full time at the World Bank find and afford commercial kitchen space, get stores to stock his product, handle distribution, and grow quickly enough to make the venture worth it? Competition in Consumer Packaged Goods (CPGs) is fierce because grocers have limited space and consumers’ pantries are overstuffed. Entrepreneurs are ravenous for guidance and an edge.

For Matturi, Union Kitchen was the answer. The company, founded in 2012 as a shared commercial kitchen in NoMa, has evolved into a vertically integrated beast with a more advanced commercial kitchen in Ivy City, distribution capabilities, branded grocery stores, and its latest venture—a food business accelerator. 

After carefully considering a complex operating agreement for eight months, Matturi joined the accelerator in July 2017. “I wanted to tell myself that I tried everything that I could before I sought support,” he says. “Union Kitchen takes 10 percent equity, which is on the higher end. The inherent value they provide, the distribution service, the hand-holding, I think it’s worth it.” Sasya Foods is now available in eight states and on Amazon.

Union Kitchen’s accelerator program claims more success stories and satisfied entrepreneurs than Matturi, and City Paper spoke with several of them. Union Kitchen has been involved with more than 400 companies since it launched; more than half of them have been minority-owned and more than half have been woman-owned. The company largely put D.C. on the map as a city to launch a food business and helped spark the made-in-D.C. movement. 

But some entrepreneurs who have worked with Union Kitchen say that it exerts excessive control over budding businesses. They say that Union Kitchen doesn’t quite have the level of business expertise accelerator programs typically boast. A handful of its participants aren’t willing to comment on their experience, even off the record.

When entrepreneurs join, they agree to give Union Kitchen 10 percent of their company, plus a board seat, which lets Union Kitchen weigh in on critical business decisions. For this reason, it’s paramount that each entrepreneur’s goal matches Union Kitchen’s vision for its accelerator. 

“The pie in the sky is we want them to be $100 million companies,” says Union Kitchen co-founder and CEO Cullen Gilchrist. “It might mean they make a lot of money or they sell the company … We’re very clear about that being everyone’s mission when we get started.”

With the stakes so high, the more information an accelerator can provide, the better. Competitors in the food space such as Food-X in New York, The Food Foundry in Chicago, and TERRA in San Francisco have robust websites replete with information such as equity requirements, biographies of mentors, program timelines, and guidelines on who the program is best suited for—brand new businesses or ones that have already captured a slice of the market.

Union Kitchen’s accelerator website is barren by contrast. There’s little more than a button to sign up for a tour. With such limited immediate transparency, and a growing number of prospective food entrepreneurs like Matturi risking the odds to join, City Paper dug into how the program is performing and the issues that entrepreneurs weigh before and after signing up. 


Business accelerators are popular across many sectors. According to Jeff Reid, founding director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative, an accelerator is an intensive, short-term gauntlet to help a startup get from one stage to the next. Entrepreneurs are typically grouped into cohorts and perks can include cash, support from peers and accelerator staff, opportunities to pitch investors, education based on real experience, and mentorship. Reid says accelerators typically take a percentage of equity for these services and benefit when there’s an exit event, such as a sale.  

Every food-related accelerator is different in terms of set-up, duration, mentor network, and give and take. City Paper spoke with program leaders at competing programs. Food-X provides entrepreneurs with $65,000 in cash and values its programming at $50,000 in exchange for 8 percent equity. The Food Foundry takes 3 percent equity in exchange for an investment package it values at $100,000. TERRA in San Francisco takes zero equity because of its strategy that pairs startups with corporations, which foot the bill. 

By comparison, Union Kitchen asks for 10 percent equity, does not provide any cash upfront, and does not publish the estimated value of its total programming. Most accelerators have a hard end date, but Gilchrist says Union Kitchen stays on past three months of launch programming in order to support participants as they continue to grow their businesses.

“We’ll keep selling the product, telling investors about it, and pushing the brand forward indefinitely,” he says. “At its core, we’re coming on as a founding partner. We want to bring a lot of knowledge to the table, resources to the table. We want to be a great person to have in your corner.” 

Reid cautions, “Generally entrepreneurs should be very careful about giving equity up of their business or signing contracts with anyone. While entrepreneurs don’t want to spend money on legal fees, this is an example of where a lawyer could help you. Before signing away equity, I would want to know what is the value I’m getting in return.”

But in return for its programming, expertise, and network, Union Kitchen asks for more than equity. When the company onboards accelerator participants, they must sign a Limited Liability Company agreement full of protective provisions, some of which give Union Kitchen noteworthy control over business decisions. One in particular gives experts pause. 

According to interviews with current participants and a version of the contract from 2016 that City Paper reviewed, a five-member board governs each accelerator member. The entrepreneur gets two seats, Union Kitchen gets one seat, and the other two seats are held by “food or marketing industry related” professionals to be unanimously selected by the other three members. 

Shavon Smith, a lawyer who represents small business owners in D.C. and Maryland, read the operating agreement. “It’s obviously a complicated document and Union Kitchen is trying to protect themselves,” she says. “The thing that I flagged the most were the protective provisions where there’s essentially a board making decisions … The way I read this is you came to them with an idea that’s probably great and now you work for them as opposed to a partnership working together to grow something.” 

The director of student entrepreneurship programs at George Washington University, Lex McCusker, agrees. “If you were one of the student teams from GW and you were asking me about going to this accelerator, I would say don’t give up a board seat,” he says. “A board seat is precious and not something you give up that early on for good advice.” 

McCusker adds that 10 percent equity is on the higher end for a program involving no cash. “I like to see 5 percent with a $20,000 to $50,000 contribution,” he says. “That’s a rule of thumb, but it varies widely.” 

Food-X program director Peter Bodenheimer explains how governance works at his accelerator. “We are here to share our experience, tell you what we think, and connect you with smart people, but we can’t make anybody do anything,” he says. “That’s not the business we’re in. We don’t take board seats. I don’t know how you can successfully be on more than one or two boards at any given time.” 

A second attorney, Keith A. Rosten, of Berliner Corcoran & Rowe LLP doesn’t find the agreement as concerning. “A five-person board with one manager representing Union Kitchen—there’s nothing freakish about that,” he says. “They’re putting money in, they want some control. It’s an agreement heavily weighted in favor of the investors, but that’s not particularly unusual.” 

Gilchrist doesn’t deny that this is how the boards are constructed, but asserts that Union Kitchen isn’t in control. “We’re not the founders, we can’t run the business,” he says. “We don’t have the passion that they deploy.” He would not discuss the agreement further, citing confidentiality. 

While Rosten reiterates that “nothing looked outlandish” in the agreement, he suggests that if you were an attorney representing the entrepreneur, you would want to “negotiate away some issues.” But accelerator members and others, including Danielle Vogel, characterize the operating agreement and equity percentage as non-negotiable, which Gilchrist doesn’t dispute. 

Vogel owns Glen’s Garden Market in Dupont Circle where she stocks many Union Kitchen-made products. She says she has served as one of the accelerator program’s informal mentors, working closely with participants. (There was a second Glen’s Garden Market in Shaw, which closed in 2018. Union Kitchen Grocery took over the space.)

“Even on Shark Tank every entrepreneur gets their own deal,” she says. “In the accelerator, every entrepreneur has to sign on to essentially the same exact terms, and Union Kitchen will not negotiate details. The problem is they’re finding these entrepreneurs at an early stage when they’re not necessarily versed in the nuances of business management and Union Kitchen is making those decisions for them.” 

She believes decisions like how much entrepreneurs can pay themselves and how much debt they’re allowed to take on should be made by the entrepreneur based on their specific intentions for their company, not by Union Kitchen. “Union Kitchen is making big promises about what they can deliver and expertise they can lend, but doing it at an excruciatingly high cost to these seed-stage businesses.” 


Credit: Darrow Montgomery/file

Since Union Kitchen doesn’t contribute any upfront cash to its accelerator participants (Gilchrist notes they have made some targeted investments) or place a monetary value on its total programming, the accelerator’s worth is tied up in its connections, methodology, reputation, and results. 

Gilchrist says about 60 businesses have participated in the accelerator since it kicked off in 2016. About 50 have launched or are about to launch in some capacity, he adds, though some entrepreneurs come to the accelerator with existing brands. Most make products that grocery stores can stock or online retailers can sell. Each quarter, the program brings on a new cohort that goes through a launch program lasting approximately three months. Gilchrist won’t disclose details, but says the curriculum includes pricing, packaging, licensing, design, accounting, and financing all designed to bring products up to industry standards. 

He explains that Union Kitchen also invites in innovation and investment teams from major companies like Nestlé, General Mills, and Coca-Cola for consultation events; leverages its relationships with buyers at Whole Foods, MOM’s Organic Market, Yes! Organic Market, Streets Market, and Compass Coffee; and plugs accelerator members in with large distribution partners such as UNFI, KeHE, and Rainforest. 

Gilchrist describes the accelerator’s mentor network as “broad ranging and informal” and also something Union Kitchen doesn’t disclose. He does note that they have advisors in design, distribution, brokerage, and investment. 

He considers Union Kitchen’s staff the most valuable resource. “We have 80 team members across three stores, a distribution team, a kitchen team, and our accelerator team all focused on launching and growing brands.”

His last point gets at the heart of how Union Kitchen’s accelerator is run. Because Union Kitchen has a $2.5 million commercial kitchen in Ivy City, a built-in distribution service, and three grocery stores with four more on the way, it effectively boasts its own local ecosystem to help brands obtain feedback and adjust.

Elena Rosenblum, who has been with Union Kitchen for four years, directs the accelerator program. She comes to the food incubator and accelerator space from international development and also describes the accelerator as one big learning experience. “What do retailers want? What do customers want?” she says. “It comes down to a lot of the little details you might not think about.” 

Gilchrist’s reasoning for not giving his accelerator participants cash is tangential to this set-up. “Cash doesn’t solve problems,” he says. “It never does. It makes existing problems worse.” He argues that his money is better spent investing in infrastructure that helps its members enter the market. “If we have money, I want to build a resource that’s going to kick serious butt,” he says. “We want to open a warehouse and get trucks. I want to open stores.” 

He says Union Kitchen sold more than $2 million in accelerator member products through their local distribution system in 2018 and notes they’re shooting for three times that in 2019. Several companies have gone national, including Swapples, Snacklins, and Eat Pizza. 

While this system may help products launch quickly because there’s a safe space to experiment and correct issues before going regional or national, one accelerator member who closed her business sees an inherent problem with it.

“The part of Union Kitchen’s business model that I became the most uncomfortable with is the fact that they are such a controlling partner while also a significant vendor and customer for most of the accelerator businesses,” says Kathleen Tozzi. “Union Kitchen holds considerable rights within our agreements including a seat on our board of directors and equity share, while also being the landlord and distributor. I found that conflict of interest and potential for risk to be unnerving.”

Tozzi joined the accelerator because, having worked for Whole Foods, she knew exactly how hard it is to infiltrate major grocers. Her company, The Fancy Schmancy Co., made crackers in flavors like “Butter + Oat” that could be eaten alone or on a cheese board. She liked that she didn’t have to make a capital investment for kitchen space and was looking for help hooking investors. 

“Getting launched happened pretty fast,” she says. “They had some good resources on packaging and things like that that were helpful.” But, she says, “I quickly realized the actual team there didn’t have a ton of experience.” 

Tozzi ultimately called it quits after examining her company’s finances. “We had accounts that were interested, but the cost to scale didn’t make sense” she says. She asserts that the closure wasn’t tied to anything Union Kitchen did or didn’t do. “That said, I would not recommend that someone go through the accelerator. I do not feel like they have the capability to help support scaling a business well.” 


In looking for potential accelerator members, Gilchrist says Union Kitchen scouts companies that need help scaling a wall they’ve hit—whether that means launching or getting past half a million dollars in sales. 

He’s looking for entrepreneurs whose aspirations match Union Kitchen’s vision for its accelerator. “We’re not trying to build the next small farmers market business,” he says. “We’re trying to build a company that can withstand the pressures of small business and last 30 years.”

If not every entrepreneur is a fit for the accelerator because some may be targeting more modest goals, it would follow that Union Kitchen be particularly discerning when selecting businesses for its accelerator. Most accelerators have a low acceptance rate. According to a 2019 Forbes article that explains how accelerators work, typically only 1 to 3 percent of startups get accepted to programs. Gilchrist pins their acceptance rate at closer to 10 percent. 

Despite it sounding like Union Kitchen has a host of applicants to choose from, some of the kitchen’s “members” report feeling pressured to join.

When Union Kitchen launched as a shared commercial kitchen, Gilchrist and co-founder Jonas Singer set out to solve a problem—finding and affording space to cook was holding people back from launching professional food businesses. 

Union Kitchen referred to entrepreneurs who joined as members and gave them designated spaces to work. There was everyone from kettle corn poppers to ice cream makers and full-on caterers. Union Kitchen described itself as an incubator; rent payments included opportunities to serve food events, marketing assistance, and product distribution. 

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

City Paper interviewed Union Kitchen members in the summer of 2016, right around the time Singer left the company and right before the accelerator launched. Feedback was mixed at this time. 

Emma Shaver of Chompz Cheese Crackers joined in April 2015 and said that, without Union Kitchen, she “wouldn’t have been able to wade through all the legal red tape of opening a business.” She adds that they were generous with both their time and knowledge. Later, though, she said the company spread itself too thin and she eventually left because of a rent increase. 

Reached last week, Shaver says she closed her cracker company when she left Union Kitchen. She was frustrated that they didn’t provide any guidance on how to close down an LLC. She failed to notify the right agencies and received a summons a year later asking her to pay $4,000. With the high failure rate in the food space, Shaver thinks the company should be more forthcoming with advice when things don’t go well.

Rabia Kamara joined Union Kitchen two months after Shaver because she felt marketing and distribution would be value-added services for her ice cream company, Ruby Scoops. By September of that year she was in four grocery stores, two of which she says she got in herself. That wasn’t enough. 

“They’re telling people that we’re going to have all these things to help you grow your business and none of those things are actually there,” Kamara told City Paper in 2016. “If you don’t harp on them like a parent to a kid that hasn’t done their homework, they won’t do it. You have to be a squeaky wheel.”

Reached last week, Kamara explains that she remained on as an “associate member” at Union Kitchen to utilize their distribution. She didn’t sign a contract to continue this past December because she was dissatisfied. She says Union Kitchen cut the number of products they were making available to stores without informing her, and that they weren’t supplying her with sales reports or paying her on time. “I have to show up there and demand a meeting to get money for products that have been sold,” she says. 

Kamara ponders whether she would have received different treatment if she was in the accelerator. “Probably, if they owned part of my business” she says. “Cullen did reach out to see if I wanted to be an accelerator member this summer.” 

V Orvan, who is still a Union Kitchen member and produces raw organic tonics and cleanses  through her company, Goûter, also took issue with distribution. “I not only didn’t get into more stores, but I ended up losing accounts,” she says. “It killed me to get phone calls and emails from managers of retail shops asking what was going on with Goûter … I got so many complaints that I eventually pulled out and went back to delivering myself.”

Union Kitchen was insistent on pitching Orvan about the accelerator. “When they were starting their accelerator program, I was in a vulnerable position, having just lost my business partner and unsure of what direction I wanted to take my business in,” Orvan explains. “Jonas and Cullen kept on pushing for a meeting.” 

She heard them out. “They made it seem like if I wouldn’t go into their program, I would soon be treated like a second-class citizen in the kitchen because they were restructuring their business and would only be offering ‘perks and benefits’ to accelerator members as opposed to all members paying rent there.” 

Orvan was confident in the knowledge she gained running her business and didn’t want to relinquish 10 percent equity in a deal she describes as “strongly skewed in their favor” and without too many “tangible benefits.” 

“I think we give preferential treatment to our accelerator members in terms of they get the majority of our time,” Gilchrist says. “I do not think that has any negative impact for folks that use our kitchen otherwise.” When it comes to distribution, Gilchrist says: “People have products that aren’t built properly.” Accelerator products, in contrast, are more likely to check the right boxes because the purpose of the program is to make them attractive to buyers. 

Gilchrist also wouldn’t characterize his recruitment techniques as putting on pressure. “I’m excited about what we do,” he says. “Anyone I care about, I want to talk to them about being a part of what we’re doing.” 

A second woman experienced pressure to join the accelerator through a different approach. Keri Lijinsky founded the gluten-free company Sweet Crimes. She bakes carrot cake, macaroons, doughnuts, cakes, and pies. 

While she was still a Union Kitchen member, Lijinsky wanted to get her products into Compass Coffee. She says she had been in talks with their buyer, Nicolette Grams, for about a year and notes they were interested in her carrot cake. After Grams left, Lijinsky dropped off samples for Compass Coffee co-founder Michael Haft. When she didn’t hear back, she reached out to Gilchrist to close the loop. 

Gilchrist reported that Compass Coffee liked her products. Getting them into the coffee shops seemed imminent. Then Gilchrist called a meeting to pitch her on the accelerator. She wasn’t interested. “I told him I’m building slowly and steadily within my means at the moment and, with a full-time job, this is where I am comfortable.”

Lijinsky says Gilchrist assured her that getting into Compass Coffee wasn’t contingent on being in the accelerator. “But the email I got from Compass afterwards just didn’t add up, especially after the history of our discussions,” she says. 

The email from Haft read, “We are not currently looking for these products, however in the future we would be willing to revaluate [sic]. The best avenue to get in touch with us [is] via the Union Kitchen Accelerator. We have had the best success with companies that are involved in the program.” Reading it, Lijinsky says she felt that “being a part of the accelerator was going to give me access to these retailers and if I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have that access.” 

Haft says Compass Coffee plays a small role in the accelerator program and refutes that you have to be in the accelerator to be sold in one or more of the company’s nine D.C.-area locations. “It’s about getting the best products,” he says. “We’re not going to carry something just because it’s made at Union Kitchen.” 

Haft and his partner, Harrison Suarez, say they talk to each cohort about their experience getting Compass off the ground. “We come to it from both the, ‘Hey, we’re interested in your product and buying it,’ and, ‘This is how we started and our process for getting Compass off the ground,’” Haft says. 

They do regularly stock accelerator products. “The best thing we can do is give a product a chance and get that feedback from our customers and staff,” Haft says. “For these young brands, if they listen to it, it can be amazing. It can change the trajectory of what they’re doing.” 

Haft says he and Suarez befriended Gilchrist six years ago at Blind Dog Cafe. But their relationship is more than a friendship. They sit on the board of Union Kitchen. “Yes, we’re on the board, but it’s not a super formal thing,” Haft says. “We mostly just get barbecue and talk about what’s going on in the D.C. food scene and business challenges that we’re facing. The board sounds a little too serious for what this is to be honest.” 

Vogel from Glen’s Garden Market characterizes their involvement differently when she talks about how the accelerator seeks out participants. “It feels like Cullen, Michael, and Harrison are playing monopoly with the D.C. food scene,” she says. “It seems to be a game of relentless empire expansion, but the fact is, the playing pieces are real people with real small businesses.”

There was a drink on the Compass Coffee menu called the “Cullen Gilchrist” over the summer. 


Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Daniel Berg is one of the accelerator’s satisfied, enthusiastic participants. The maker of Berg Bites—oat-based, gluten-free snacks with complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, and prebiotic fiber—says the teams at Compass Coffee and Union Kitchen Grocery helped him refine the size and shape of his product. 

“Ours is a good example of how their program works,” he says. “Of improving a product through customer feedback, using distribution, and the stores. We’ve gone through so many changes and iterations of the product. They’re really smart and helpful, especially for me with no previous experience in the industry.”

Berg Bites are in Compass Coffee, Whole Foods, VIDA Fitness, Equinox Sports Club, and a host of other locations. Berg says he enjoys the camaraderie of being part of a cohort. “We started doing meetings every month where the members gather and discuss growing pains.” 

He also appreciated the chance to meet the president of nutrition at Pepsi and representatives from Nestlé. “They said they were going to accelerate our business and they certainly did,” he says. “[Union Kitchen] is continuing to grow themselves, they’re only an eight-year-old company.” 

Gilchrist, who came to Union Kitchen from the hospitality industry, admits growing his company has been a learning experience with some missteps. “We make so many mistakes,” he says. “I’ve gotten so many things wrong the last few years. I’ve said, ‘How do we learn? How do we leverage this to be better?’” 

Four other entrepreneurs report good experiences with the accelerator, including Janalee Redmond. After a career in IT and biotech she suffered a health crisis that forced her into a new diet. Through this experience she discovered the benefits of bone broth. Her company, Brainy Belly, makes beef- and poultry-based bone broths and soups. She joined Union Kitchen as a regular member in 2015 then pivoted to become one of the accelerator’s first entrepreneurs.

Early on she recalls that they were all “finding their way through” at the same time. “That can be frustrating, but they’re a bunch of very smart people,” she says. “I know people have had different experiences with it, but personally being a part of several startups, I feel positive overall.” 

Redmond says she was comfortable with the terms, value of the programming, and connections. Her products are at Yes! Organic Market, MOM’s Organic Market, Union Kitchen Grocery, and other small stores. She produces under USDA inspection, which allows her to sell her products across state lines. She’s already in Philadelphia and New Jersey is coming down the pike. She’s targeting further expansion in the Mid-Atlantic region.

She believes that unless you have broad, deep experience with business, it’s lonely launching a company by yourself. “[Union Kitchen] provide[s] you with the pressure in a kinder, gentler, structured manner than what you’d find in the marketplace,” she says. “They press you to hone business skills, get your pitch together, and focus your vision.” 

Like Redmond and Krishna Matturi of Sasya Foods, David Knowles is having an encore career in food with his company, Lord of the Pies. The former television news reporter began selling pie by the slice at festivals and realized he had a knack for baking. Knowles was a regular Union Kitchen member first and joined the accelerator in spring 2018. 

“I joined in order to develop new products and to grow my distribution to more stores outside of the D.C. region,” Knowles says. “In the past several months I have been able to greatly increase the number of stores that offer our products, and I am in talks with regional and national distributors who could enable significant growth.” He’s been impressed by Gilchrist, Rosenblum, and accelerator assistant manager Emily Paciulla. They worked with him on developing pie snacks that customers can eat on-the-go.

While he acknowledges that it’s a major step to bring in a partner, he would recommend the accelerator to others. “For someone in my situation, needing some guidance and expertise to grow in the retail space, I recommend people take a close look at it.” 

Matturi is more specific about who he thinks the accelerator can benefit. “If you have no knowledge of the food industry, definitely go with them,” he says. “I don’t think it’s worth it for an advanced-stage start-up.” 

He says while he was not able to negotiate how much equity Union Kitchen takes, he was able to push back on decisions. “There were so many times I had quandaries and they pushed me towards this or that and I was able to say no,” he says. “They were OK with it.” Matturi appreciates opportunities to interject because he notes that Gilchrist isn’t coming from a background of “being highly successful at General Mills or Kellogg’s.”

The biggest accelerator advantage, Matturi says, is Union Kitchen’s local connections to stores like Whole Foods and Yes! and how quickly they were able to expedite the process of getting onto their shelves. “I wouldn’t say they’re an expert in everything, but they’ve matured quite a lot in terms of the accelerator program,” Matturi says.

A Union Kitchen representative approached Myles Powell while he was serving food at the DC Brau holiday market. He mainly makes mac and cheese through his company 8 Myles. “The accelerator was a fit for what I was looking for because I wasn’t familiar with the frozen food industry,” he says. 

He joined in February 2018. His various flavors of frozen mac and cheese can now be found at Yes! Organic Market, MOM’s, Glen’s Garden Market, Union Kitchen Grocery, and Streets. 

“I signed up because connections to buyers was a big one for me,” he explains. “It’s a pretty crowded industry. Buyers get pitched 1,000 times a month. Union Kitchen already had a footprint in the marketplace.”

He notes that equity was a concern when he was considering his options. “That was the biggest point when I was reviewing the proposal,” he says. “It was one of those situations where I could potentially own 90 percent of a million-dollar business. I decided to give it a shot.”

Entrepreneurs’ success rate depends on when they come into the program, according to Powell. There seems to be a sweet spot—entrepreneurs that have some market experience, but not too much. “I had an established brand and knew how the industry worked to a degree,” he says. “I would just say to be careful on what your goals are and make sure they align with what Union Kitchen’s goals for you might be.”


Credit: Darrow Montgomery/file

Orvan credits Union Kitchen with being an integral part of growing the local food community. 

That said, she argues the startup food landscape has changed dramatically since she started Goûter. “It used to be about doing something local in D.C., your hometown, your community, having pride in where you live, wanting to create something great in your city and to contribute positively to your city’s growth,” she says. “Everyone knew there wasn’t big money in food, but you did it because you were passionate.”

Eight years later, she says, the food community feels much more profit obsessed. “Having a food business in D.C. has become trendy, and Union Kitchen has placed themselves in such a way that newcomers with a food business idea and some upfront capital go to them and don’t mind giving them part of their business upfront in exchange for their business network.”

“But I think it’s important to be transparent and talk not just about successes but also the failures that haven’t made it out of Union Kitchen,” she says. “Getting into food is a risky and expensive business, and people should do their research and know what they’re getting themselves into.”