Wynwood Yard provides incubator for Miami's rising culinary entrepreneurs
Argentinian-Israeli schnitzel and falafel, Korean rice bowls topped with beef in red chili paste, rotisserie chicken served in an Amsterdam ambiance, a black tea blend dubbed KickAssam — these are some of the flavors that four aspiring local food startups hope to bring to the Miami food scene.
The entrepreneurs presented their business plans and brands to potential investors and business mentors in a “Shark Tank” setting on Wednesday evening at the Miami culinary incubator, The Wynwood Yard.
The event was the brainchild of restauranteur and Wynwood Yard founder Della Heiman, who wanted to create networking opportunities in the culinary business world akin to those she saw in Miami’s booming tech sector.
“Food and beverage startups don’t necessarily get a lot of love,” said Adrienne Etkin Nascimento, who pitched her company, Admari Tea, at the event. “The fact that Della has taken this initiative is brilliant.”
“We wanted to promote hyper-local ventures that are based from our communities and reflect the fabric of our culture that is Miami today,” said Heiman, who opened her restaurant, della test kitchen, at the Yard in November 2015 and leases space in the lot to new local food trucks.
Although no one was designated the winner, she said, “the magic happens as people start to connect and network.”
Nascimento, who has 10 years of tea retail experience and mixes her own blends, said she was looking for mentoring and advice in addition to the financial backing to open a tea boutique and to produce her ready-to-drink line of “liquid meditation” in a bottle.
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely path, Nascimento said. “Sometimes, it’s hard to get your head out of your passion and into the business sense of things.”
Miami is home to 560 new entrepreneurs for every 100,000 adults in any given month, according to the 2017 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity, beating out Austin, Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas for the top position on the startup index. There were just shy of 40,000 restaurants in Florida in 2015, according to the National Restauraunt Association, providing over one million food service jobs in 2017.
Food is one of the easiest ways for property developers to stimulate a sense of place and community, said Joe Furst of Goldman Properties, who provided feedback to entrepreneurs at the event. Furst was joined on the advisory panel by representatives from Terra Group, EDENS, The Comras Company and The Knight Foundation. Miami made and J.P. Morgan Chase sponsored the event.
“When you put together a mix of creative food and beverage professionals,” Furst said, “you create exciting communities that people want to be a part of.”
However, for aspiring food and beverage startups, access to initial capital and the right location can be huge obstacles to entering the restaurant business.
Coco Coig pitched in search of a seventh investor to round out support for his startup, Le Chick Rotisserie. Five weeks from opening in the Wynwood area, Coig and his business partner have secured a landlord and permission to replicate the ambiance and menu he enjoyed at a popular Amsterdam bar and restaurant chain.
Brothers Alan and Bernie Klinger came to promote Shnitz n’ Fritz. For the past six months, they have been selling Argentinian-Israeli style schnitzel, falafel and fries from a food truck at The Wynwood Yard.
They want to expand to a brick and mortar store with more kitchen space so they can add healthier items to their menu, as well as display and sell their bottled sauces and spreads.
“To do any hot food concept, the entry fee is high,” Alan Klinger said. “Maybe some of these property owners have restaurant ready spaces we could go into and make minor modifications.”
Chain restaurants tend to get first dibs on the hottest properties because they have more access to funding, he said. As a result, “there’s a lot of local concepts here that remain untapped.”
Jennifer Kaminski and Sarah Raw, of 2 Korean Girls, founded their company to fill a void in South Florida they have griped about and bonded over: the lack of satisfying local Korean food.
Their business plan, which would take their concept to the trial-by-food-truck phase, sells bibimbap, a Korean meat and vegetable dish that literally means “mixed rice.” They emphasized two important aspects of their brand: health and authenticity.
“Korean food was healthy before being healthy was cool,” Raw said.
And they have Kaminski’s mother, Sunny, who owns a Korean restaurant in Indiana and has a line of sauces and mixes at Whole Foods, to ensure authenticity.
Pitching their concept at the Yard was the first time they’d shared 2 Korean Girls with anyone outside of family and friends, Kaminski said. “Now it feel like it’s become more real.”