Union Kitchen Is Cooking Up The Future of Food Startups In DC

Published on March 26, 2019

Tucked away upstairs in a renovated warehouse in Washington, DC’s North East Ivy City neighborhood, Cullen Gilchrist — CEO and co-founder of Union Kitchen — worked the room at Union Kitchen’s Meet the Makers event this past Sunday as many of the region’s hottest food startups showcased what they’ve been cooking.

Open to the public, but also attended by investors, retailers, distributors, and corporate food innovation teams, it’s clear that Union Kitchen’s self-described “Food Business Accelerator” has hit its stride. The event was filled with brands at all stages of growth – from those that had recently launched to others with a national presence.

While companies like WeWork, Cove, SwingSpace, and countless others compete to service the office and desk space needs of more traditional entrepreneurs and organizations, Union Kitchen is an entirely different beast. After all, food businesses face distinct challenges – from scaling production processes to working within the established industry supply chains.

Union Kitchen’s 17,000 sq. ft., USDA-organic certified production facility allows Members to test, refine, and grow their concepts. From Snacklin’s puffed chips to Swapples plant-based waffles and EAT Pizza’s frozen pizza, Union Kitchen has played host to it all. Since opening in 2012, over 500 businesses have come through Union Kitchen.

Equally as important are the people starting companies at Union Kitchen. Half of which are minority-owned and half are female owned, which is significantly more inclusive than tech or other entrepreneurial fields. With more than $250 million in sales generated by our combined businesses and 1,200 jobs created by Union Kitchen companies, Cullen is open about the ingredients he and his staff use to best position members.

To support the development of brands, Union Kitchen has three grocery stores and a distribution company – all with the idea of creating a local launchpad for DC food brands to prove out their concepts. Members are able to make their product in the Ivy City facility, move the product through Distribution, and sell it into stores. Instead of relying on a cashierless technology like Amazon, walk in and chat with staff that’s knowledgable about the nuances of each specific item they sell. Think of it as an extension of the ethos the Union Kitchen team rallies around.

Today, Union Kitchen offers three primary value drivers: 1) a top-notch production facility bolstered by a collaborative community of food-focused makers and a tailored launch program, 2) it’s own centrally located grocery stores for their members to launch and test product while establishing sales history, 3) distribution relationships that extend far beyond their own ecosystem.

It’s likely only a matter of time before Union Kitchen partners with an existing food-focused investment fund or launches one of their own to offer a fourth pillar of support.

There’s a lot more to DC than politics once you look past Capitol Hill.

Looking for more coverage in tech by Columnist Adam Zuckerman? Check out his latest on OnStar’s “stolen vehicle slowdown” tech, here.

Adam Zuckerman is a Columnist at Grit Daily. He is the founder of Fosterly, an Eisenhower Fellow, an advisor to numerous startups, an angel investor, and former intrapranuer and VC at Discovery. He now consults for organizations, universities, and governments -- often with a sustainability and future facing technology impact focus -- around the world.

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