A Delicious Asset That Is Cooking Up New Food Businesses in The Region

Town of Unicoi’s Mountain Harvest Kitchen

Cooking up a new food business requires the passion of the entrepreneurial kind. It might be a totally fresh idea or scaling up an old family recipe that’s ready for retailers. The Town of Unicoi’s Mountain Harvest Kitchen is a powerful accelerator for either.

Envisioned as a business incubator and an educational asset for the region, Mountain Harvest Kitchen is a 4,000 sq. ft. facility just off I-26 at Exit 32, adjacent to the Town of Unicoi’s Tourist Information Center that offers a commercial kitchen and professional support to those wanting to start a food business.

The certified commercial kitchen facility is available for rent by the hour and offers reasonable package rates for long-term or high-use members. The fully equipped, state-of-the-art kitchen is a dream come true for most food entrepreneurs as start-up costs for kitchens can be cost prohibitive. The facility’s cold storage areas include both cold and frozen options of significant size for a start-up.

A worker packaging Royal Red Stew, an African-inspired brand prepared at the kitchen.

A worker packaging Royal Red Stew, an African-inspired brand prepared at the kitchen.

“Mountain Harvest Kitchen has always been about helping grow the number of successful food businesses here in our region,” says Kathy Bullen, the town’s mayor. “Today, eight different start-up companies are working with Brandon Douglas, Mountain Harvest Kitchen’s Director, to build their food business.”

The list includes a creamery, sauce companies, a syrup company, bakery, and even an entrepreneur bringing her native African stews to the U.S. market as customers of the kitchen. “Our kitchen facilities help them perfect their foods at the pilot scale and help with their packaging and labeling needs,” says Brandon. “We can provide input on their go-to-market strategies such as whether they should choose to build their brand through e-commerce, as a stand-alone retail shop, through catering, or through traditional supermarket retailers.”

From start-ups to big batch canning, the Mountain Harvest Kitchen is a smart start.

From start-ups to big batch canning, the Mountain Harvest Kitchen is a smart start.

“The Mountain Harvest Kitchen is a unique asset that makes the Town of Unicoi one of a kind and another reason to grow your business in our county,” says Austin Finch, Executive Director of the Unicoi County Economic Development Council. “The county has agrarian roots and today several significant produce growers can call Unicoi County home. The Mountain Harvest Kitchen could be viewed as a reflection of our roots.”

The kitchen is both a business incubator and an educational facility.

The kitchen is both a business incubator and an educational facility.

Kathy Bullen and the town are finding additional ways to get even more from their vision. “We’ve met with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and Department of Education as well as other state officials on making the kitchen a destination for training the next generation of foodservice professionals. One example is to provide ServSafe Food Handler certification training for those in the region who are beginning their jobs as kitchen staff in restaurants.” The course offers instruction on basic food safety, time and temperature standards, cross-contamination issues, food allergens as well as cleaning and sanitation.

“Brandon is securing his ServSafe proctor certification so that he can instruct and proctor the required tests to receive a certificate. This should help those wanting a career in the foodservice industry and support regional restaurant operators,” Bullen explains.

Bullen wants to reestablish the kitchen as a local asset for education and good ole country cooking. Prior to the pandemic, the kitchen regularly offered educational courses for locals interested in cooking techniques such as canning, pickling, or baking. The kitchen even offered times for families or churches to prepare large batches of everything from canning vegetables to foods for church fundraisers.

“The pandemic posed a significant challenge to operations of the kitchen, so we are in the process of rebuilding some of our programs while we help those who are building their own food companies,” Kathy explains.

For those looking to fulfill their dream of starting a food business, the kitchen is available for a no obligation tour and a free consultation on options for their start up. To schedule your visit and discussion, please email mhk@unicoitn.net

FEATURED EVENTS

Share Your Story

SHARE YOUR STORY WITH US

We would love to hear your stories…