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Local food entrepreneurs looking to level up will pitch a room full of investors today at Republic Restoratives in Ivy City. Dubbed “Union Kitchen Investor Demo Day,” the afternoon will feature 13 businesses, each making six-minute presentations to a room full of angel investors, venture capitalists, and major food brands.
Some companies like vegan cracklin’ producer Snacklins, corkscrew hot dog food truck Swizzler, and frozen plant-based waffle purveyor Swapples are looking for small raises, while others like Bright Greens Smoothie Shakers and Watusee Foods are seeking to raise at least $1 million, says Union Kitchen CEO Cullen Gilchrist. “People are building big businesses that are able to take on significant funding to scale to that next level,” he says.
The first-of-its-kind event for Union Kitchen is like a flare gun signaling the start of the next chapter for the food incubator that started as a membership-based commercial kitchen five years ago. In May, it announced it would vacate its original sprawling space at 1110 Congress St. NE. While it still offers Ivy City kitchen space for budding food entrepreneurs to produce their wares, the operation is shifting gears.
“We want to see D.C. become the premier place to grow a food business in this country,” Gilchrist says. “The chief goal is to help companies raise capital.” More specifically, Union Kitchen is looking to help grow companies and make them profitable enough to support more jobs. “We’re looking at the infrastructure companies need to raise the money to take the next steps to expand regionally or nationally.”
Gilchrist characterizes the District as an ideal market for nurturing growing food businesses. “We’ve got a great economy and an adventurous set of people,” he says. “That’s why a lot of fast-casuals start here. Producers learn who they are before going regional and national.”
Not all of the businesses pitching today are current or former Union Kitchen members. “These are members of D.C. food community,” Gilchrist explains. “We want to bring capital to D.C. It’s not an insular thing. … They’re all making good food, and that’s our criteria.”
Union Kitchen stands to gain from its new direction by becoming an equity investor in some of the companies that participate in its accelerator program. Additionally, it plans to open more Union Kitchen Grocery stores, which give food businesses a launching point for selling products.
In advance of the event, Gilchrist says they’ve been doing pitch practice with participants for about a month. Swizzler co-founder Jesse Konig was still flipping through his slides this morning, but he says he’s not nervous.
“We’re excited to share our story and add to our network,” Konig says. Swizzler has been a Union Kitchen member since launching its food truck business two and a half years ago. He explains that they’re not looking to do anything too drastic like open a brick-and-mortar restaurant or expand to another city, but they plan to put a second food truck on the road this summer. It would be on the road daily and could potentially offer some secret menu items.
“We want to make connections with people in the industry and see if there are ways that we can fit into their plans,” Konig continues. “Our short-term goal is creating an ecosystem in D.C. and growing within the market. Saturating is a word that comes to mind.”
The Union Kitchen Investor Demo Day runs from 2-8 p.m. today but isn’t open to the public. In addition to the pitch sessions and networking, there is also a panel session featuring retail heavyweights: Mom’s Organic Market CEO Scott Nash, Asadoorian Retail Solutions principal broker John Asadoorian, and Revolution Growth vice president Chris Hughes.
The other businesses pitching today: Berg Bites, Brainy Belly, Modern Bar Cart, Caribe, Ice Cream Jubilee, True Made Foods, Galley Foods, and Fancy Schmancy.