Tomball Economic Development Corporation pursues culinary incubator, food hall concept to address farmers market growth

The Tomball Farmers Market began in 2009 and has served as a starting point for many businesses before opening brick-and-mortar locations in the city.

The Tomball Farmers Market began in 2009 and has served as a starting point for many businesses before opening brick-and-mortar locations in the city.

The Tomball Economic Development Corporation is considering creating a culinary incubator space to support emerging food entrepreneurs in the city of Tomball, Executive Director Kelly Violette said.

The incubator space could include a commercial kitchen, open for food entrepreneurs to rent by the hour or day, and a food hall—similar to a mall food court—open to the community where all of the vendors are local businesses, Violette said.

"[This idea] came out of the growth and success of the Tomball Farmers Market and the businesses that are growing out of that," Violette said during an annual TEDC update during a June 17 City Council meeting.

Tejas Chocolate & Barbecue, Pain Train Salsa, Caroline’s Kitchen and BZ Honey are just a few of the businesses that have opened in downtown Tomball after finding success at the Tomball Farmers Market—a market held each Saturday on Main Street.

"It’s slowly starting to transform not just our downtown but our town as far as being kind of a food destination," Violette said. "One of the challenges that came up in discussing this with some of these businesses is a lack of space that’s available for them when they’re…ready to move to the next step [from the farmers market]."

Paired with limited available space, new food-based businesses also have the financial challenge of outfitting a building with a commercial kitchen, she said.

"One of the things we had found [in talking with the farmers market] is that several potential businesses that sprouted out of the farmers market then ended up going elsewhere because they couldn’t find space here," Violette said. "We’re losing opportunity; we’re losing potential businesses, and we’re not meeting the needs of entrepreneurs."

In its 2019-20 fiscal year, the TEDC plans to hire a culinary incubator consultant to determine the feasibility of creating an incubator space—exploring partnerships with Tomball ISD and Lone Star College-Tomball and looking at funding options—and explore potential locations for the facility, Violette said.

Over the last year, the TEDC has visited various culinary kitchens and food hall concepts across the nation to help figure out what would work best for the Tomball community, Violette said.

Sizes of culinary incubators have varied from about 3,000 square feet to 80,000 square feet, she said. Some incubators also limit the time a vendor can stay put and offer reduced rent prices for the businesses. For example, a vendor may be able to work out of the shared culinary kitchen for three years and then be expected to move on to its own facility. Rent prices gradually increase to the standard rental rate as the businesses gain traction.

"It varies, but it’s gotta be specific to the needs of this community, and we won’t know that until we do the feasibility study," Violette said.
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