Nonprofit helps build local businesses from the ground up

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Hope and Main in Warren - building local business_272097

WARREN, R.I (WPRI) — The 100-year-old school on Main Street in Warren may have closed years ago, but inside Kathleen Bellicchi can teach you a thing or two about biscotti.

Her mother-in-law taught her how to make biscotti, but it’s Hope & Main that taught her how to launch her own business.

You could say Ziggy Goldfarb was in a pickle, laid off from his job just one day after attending an informational meeting at Hope & Main, or you could say it was fate.

“It was kind of in the back of my mind that I kind of wanted to do it, but I wasn’t sure,” he said. “And that was the kick in the butt I needed.”

What began as a hobby, making pickles at home, has now morphed into Fox Point Pickling Company, sold in 80 stores in six states.

Full-time Johnson and Wales professor Peter Kelly had wanted to break into the candy business for 15 years. He said not having to risk it all to start his own business was too sweet a deal to pass up.

“Starting up your own brick-and-mortar kitchen retail facility is really cost-prohibitive to most people,” said Kelly. “It’s not like I have $100,000 that I could just plunk down. This really gave us the place to do it.”

Now his “Anchor Toffee” is sold at stores all over Rhode Island and his online business is taking off too, with orders coming in from as far away as Arizona.

Bellicchi’s Best Biscotti, Fox Point Pickling Co. and Anchor Toffee are just some of the almost 70 start-up food companies in culinary business incubator Hope & Main — the brainchild of Lisa Raiola.

“I was going to start my own small food business,” she said. “But in my research, I found out I needed a code-compliant kitchen. Banks aren’t friendly to small food businesses. It’s really hard to get financing and it’s very expensive.”

When Raiola was scouting locations and found the school, she thought there may be other people out there like her.

“If I could gather the resources to build a code-compliant kitchen,” Raiola said. “I can have a co-working space that would make it much less expensive for people to start food businesses.”

First, she had to get approval from voters in the town of Warren to buy the school. Then she had to secure the funding, which came in the form of a $3 million loan from the USDA.

Now, the nonprofit provides low-cost, low-risk access to shared-use commercial kitchens and storage space. It also teaches these businesses how to launch their product in a way that’s code-compliant, helping culinary newcomers cut through the red tape.

“In other words,” said Raiola. “You come to me and say ‘It’s my grandmother’s recipe for pasta sauce.’ We have to figure out how to get it into a jar, what is the nutrition labeling for that jar, what is the cost per jar, what’s my brand name or my trademark. We provide all the classes for them in terms of their certifications, licensing, packaging, labeling, distribution, and pricing.”

Businesses pay an hourly rate, month to month. One year in and Raiola tells Eyewitness News they’ve created 80 jobs, a carefully calculated number. Every 32 hours a business spends at the incubator equals one full-time job.

In three years, she believes they’ll go from 80 jobs created to more than 230.

Raiola’s hope is that Hope & Main will give start-ups like Bellicchi’s Best Biscotti, Fox Point Pickling Co. and Anchor Toffee the tools they need to grow and graduate to their own brick-and-mortar businesses.

Visit Hope & Main’s website to learn more about the incubator program.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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