Shared Tastes: Economic Development, Local Food + Kitchen Incubators in New York City

Urban Planning Thesis

Jinny Khanduja

Stacey Sutton, advisor

In the past few decades, urban innovations for local food production have begun to gain traction. From rooftop honey production on the Upper West Side to urban farms at Brooklyn Grange, nut milks in Gowanus, and chocolatiers in Bushwick, the presence of small-scale food manufacturing is gaining visibility in the city. However, there is a mismatch in infrastructure for these small producers, as much of the city’s industrial spaces and supply and distribution chains were built to accommodate conventional large scale production. As entrepreneurial food firms attempt to secure a foothold in the city’s manufacturing economy, many are resorting to new cost-sharing measures. The formal sharing of commercial kitchens is one such measure.

New York City now has eight private and nonprofit kitchen incubators and two in development. The characteristics of these spaces and the goals of the firms they host vary significantly. Buoyed by a desire to drive economic growth, retain New York City’s manufacturing jobs, and promote locally produced goods, city representatives and stakeholders have extolled the benefits of kitchen incubators.

This study explored the characteristics and goals of New York City’s various models of incubator kitchens and how they contribute to (or undermine) economic development and the food economy. Using the lenses of local economic development and food systems planning, it also assessed the economic, health, sustainability and equity implications of kitchen incubators in New York City. This thesis contributed to existing planning research and theory on the benefits and challenges of supporting early development of firms in a nascent sector in the city’s economy and in creating more “local” food systems in urban environments.