Hatch Kitchen stirs up next-level tastemakers.
We’ve all known that friend: The one whose homemade salad dressing tastes so good, you wish she’d bottle it. The grill master whose rib sauce beats anything you’ve found in stores (you know, you’ve searched). Or the weekend baker whose chewy-delicious bagels make you long to place a standing order.
But the journey from home kitchen to market shelves is filled with twists and turns. “Lots of people try to turn food hobbies into legitimate businesses,” says Austin Green, co-founder of Hatch Kitchen, a food-business incubator based in Richmond. “Now they have the resources and mentors to make that journey a whole lot easier, leveraging the experience of businesses that have failed before and are willing to share the secrets of their success.”
Green takes pride in the support Hatch offers fledgling companies. He opened Hatch Kitchen in 2019 with Brad Cummings, who founded Startup Virginia, another local business incubator. “We can take on 100 percent of their needs, from product development and branding, to production, packaging, and storage,” Green explains, “and we can handle bottling foods such as hot sauce, Bloody Mary mix, and shrubs, as well as items like baking mixes and spices.”
Green also understands the challenges these food-hopefuls face because he’s walked a mile in their shoes. His award-winning Texas Beach Bloody Mary Mix, created in 2014, has thrived in the marketplace; but a few bottle-labeling missteps in his early days created big problems for the novice entrepreneur and sparked his interest in helping the next generation.
Located on the city’s southside at Clopton Siteworks, between Maury and Hull streets, a 25-acre site that once housed Philip Morris tobacco drying warehouses, Hatch provides the space, facilities, and mentorship that small food companies need to grow. The complex includes a 9,000-square-foot communal kitchen with commercial ovens, mixers, refrigerators, freezers, and dry storage. For food trucks, overnight parking spaces provide a safe haven. Hatch clients can get training and mentorship from a network of in-house advisors, including food-business consultant Barb Upchurch Lamb of the Apple Cart.
With the arrival of Hatch Local, a food hall—just opened in February at The Current in the city’s Manchester neighborhood—the incubator now offers a public gathering place for anyone looking to taste what’s new on the local foodscape.
At Hatch, members find an encouraging community. “These folks have helped me by sharing their stories and what they have learned along the way,” says Joye Moore of Joyebell’s Sweet Potato Pies. “It saves me time and energy.”
Hatch has also inspired offshoots like Hatch Packaging, Hatch Logistics, which handles inventory and logistics management, and Hatch Butchery, a USDA-certified craft production facility that works with local farms.
Members feel grateful for the support from Hatch staff, too, says Green: “They benefit as we learn from the mistakes that others have made along the way.” Here are a few Hatch success stories:
Nightingale: Ice Cream Sandwiches
When I call Xavier Meers, co-founder and co-owner of Nightingale, he’s on the road, bound for New York’s JFK airport with a delivery for JetBlue. The airline now serves Nightingale’s mini-sized “Chump” ice cream sandwiches on London-bound flights as part of their self-described “best in-flight meal experience.”
Meers and Hannah Pollack, his wife and business partner, never imagined their gourmet ice cream sandwiches would become an international sensation. Back in 2016, Nightingale produced 100 of the frozen treats a day. Today that figure is up to 10,000, and their product is sold around the country in over 1,000 stores and restaurants.
A longtime chef and native of Belgium, Meers met Pollack in a restaurant kitchen. Together they created a plated dessert of real vanilla ice cream, sandwiched between brownies. The idea took flight, and Nightingale has grown to include a host of flavors, including the classic Cookie Monster (chocolate chip cookies with cookies and cream ice cream), Fat Banana (peanut butter cookie, fresh banana ice cream, half dipped in chocolate) , and Key Lime (brown sugar cookies with key lime ice cream), among others.
Like many food entrepreneurs, scaling their operation has been Nightingale’s biggest challenge. The business, launched during off-hours in restaurant kitchens, quickly outgrew those spaces. Once they secured a distributor, they couldn’t keep up with orders.
Recognizing Nightingale’s potential, the team at Hatch approached Meers and Pollack about joining their growing roster of food businesses. Once they settled into Hatch, Nightingale flourished. Now housed in its own 8,000-square-foot custom-built factory—with bakery, ice cream production, packaging, and dry storage—Nightingale has added a high-tech, low-touch flow wrapper system for hands-free packaging.
Hatch, says Meers, “gave us the opportunity to grow, and our success story has helped them grow as well.”
Crescent Simples: Cocktail Syrups
As a bartender working in New Orleans’ French Quarter, Bill Miller loved to experiment with syrups featuring fresh fruit and herbs. Over time, friends and fellow bartenders would drop by to visit Bill and his wife Megan, a restaurant manager, to sip his delicious concoctions. When the couple moved home to Virginia from The Big Easy to be closer to family, they were inspired to turn their cocktail syrups into a business.
They started selling Crescent Simples at farmers markets, producing the elixirs out of The Cannery facility in Farmville. When they outgrew that space and discovered Hatch Kitchen, they moved to Richmond in 2019 to scale up. With flavors that now include Peach Hibiscus, Blackberry Vanilla, Grapefruit Rosemary, and Blueberry Lavender, this dynamic duo now fills orders from gift shops, wine shops, and small groceries in 16 states.
The Millers source much of their fruit and herbs locally and spend two to three days each week in small batch production. “I don’t know what we would have done without Hatch,” says Megan. “We were able to grow our business without the typical high start-up costs that many businesses face, and the camaraderie and collaboration with other producers have been invaluable to our success.” Miller often turns to fellow Hatch members Meredyth Archer, founder of Mother Shrub, and Will Gray of Back Pocket Provisions to bounce ideas around and learn from their experiences.
Joyebells: Sweet Potato Pies
Joye B. Moore, founder and CEO of Joyebells Sweet Potato Pies, has turned a six-generation tradition into a family business. Using a sweet potato pie recipe that originated with her third great grandmother, Sarah-Mae Howell, Moore is sharing her family’s legacy, one delicious pie at a time.
She has been featured on The Today Showin Southern Living magazine, and has recorded an oral history with the Southern Foodways Alliance.
Moore’s baking journey started in home kitchens, but it was her move to the shared commissary kitchen at Hatch that catapulted her business to new heights. “I have learned so much from other members, the management team, and through mentorship and educational programs available to us,” relates Moore.
Through those resources More discovered that the sweet spot for her pies was the wholesale market. She credits the incubator collaboration for much of her success. “I want to incubate on up to the co-packing facility,” she says. Contracts with Food Lion, Sam’s Club, and other retailers have given her new markets in multiple states with more on the horizon.
Originally from Maine, Ashley Cricchio came to Richmond to attend VCU and never left. Trained in the baking craft by Earl Vallery during a stint at Whisk Bakery, she perfected her own recipe for bagels in her home kitchen. Hand rolled from sourdough before a two-day proofing then kettle boiled, Cricchio’s process gives her bagels a crispy exterior that yields to a soft and chewy center. Word spread, and she started taking pre-orders from her friends at RVA Performance Training Gym who asked, “where can I buy some?”
When it became clear she needed a bigger kitchen, Haluk Ural of Human Food RVA, a clean cooking meal prep service, tipped her off about Hatch’s services. Since her 2019 move to Hatch, Cricchio has been cranking out thousands of bagels a week for more than 15 locations across the region, including Outpost Richmond, Ellwood Thompson’s, Union Market, and Stella’s Groceries. Her flavors include blueberry, poppy, sea salt, and rosemary, and she’s now making plans to open her own bakery in Carytown.
“My time at Hatch has been so valuable in teaching me how to grow my business and brand,” she says.
Back Pocket Provisions: Bloody Mary Mixes
“Our mission is to lift up and support the small farmer,” says Back Pocket Provisions’ owner Will Gray, “and at our essence, we are a vegetable juice company.”
Since 2015 Will has been promoting small farms through Back Pocket’s Bloody Mary mixes, including Bloody Brilliant with fresh juice from family-farmed tomatoes, spicy horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, and a dash of cayenne pepper; Bloody Baja, a Southwest-style mix with a blend of jalapeños, fresh garlic, certified organic sweet corn, and seasoned with smoky spices; Bloody Bangkok, a Southeast Asian blend of fresh tomato, Thai red curry, and a little fish sauce; and Bloody Blue Ridge, a collaboration using The Shack’s sorghum and ghost pepper hot sauce and Catbird’s miso and tamari Worcestershire sauce.
At the core of Back Pocket’s flavors are thousands of tomatoes and other local farm vegetables considered too “ugly” for farmers to sell to consumers. Creating a market for delicious yet imperfect produce helps farmers mitigate supply chain challenges. Back Pocket started working with Hatch in 2020, leveraging everything from processing and seasoning to bottling and shipping. “We think of Hatch as an extension of our team,” says Gray, and that cooperation has Back Pocket Provisions to optimize the yields of its allowed seasonal business and deliver its delectable mixes to Bloody Mary fans throughout Virginia and beyond. HatchRichmond.com, HatchLocalFoodHall.com
Taste the Latest: Hatch Local Food Hall
Just opened in Richmond’s Manchester district, Hatch Local Food Hall offers a grab-and-go market, coffee bar, cocktail bar, local food purveyors, and private event space. “Guests will find so many opportunities to eat, drink, celebrate, and interact with makers from all over Virginia here,” says Joya Carlton, who’s spearheading the project as director of Lynx Hospitality. Look for tastings demos, and panel discussions—along with this delicious lineup:
Buttermilk and Honey Award-winning fried chicken dishes from dynamic husband and wife, chef Mike Lindsey and Kimberley Love-Lindsey. ButtermilkAndHoneyRVA.com
Oro Creative, handmade pasta and seasonal vegetable dishes from Laine Myers, who was selected by Food & Wine to compete in Barilla’s 2020 Pasta World Championship. OroRVA.Square.Site
Sincero Mexican food that takes a creative approach to traditional favorites from co-owners Alex Bobadilla and Karen Negvesky. @Sincero_RVA
Royal Pig The authentic Cambodian food from Vanna Hem and Adam Stull inspired their motto: No spice levels, no frills, all flavor. @RoyalPigRVA
Fat Kid Sandwiches Over-the-top sandwiches from John Martin and Liz Clifford, a culinary team with an impressive list of restaurants on their resumes and forays into molecular gastronomy in Chicago and pasta making in Colono, Italy. FatKidSandwiches.com
The Beet Box Cold-pressed juices, smoothies, and healthy food with an urban vibe from founders Ashley Lewis and Antione Meredith. BeetBoxRVA.com
Odyssey Fish Fast, casual, and sustainable seafood from the award-winning team at Alewife. @odysseyfish_rva
This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue.