Food incubator Union Kitchen is well-known in D.C. for providing small, local food businesses with commercial kitchen space and other tools for growth. Just a few of their success stories include RareSweets, District Doughnuts, and TaKorean, all of which have their own storefronts now.
But now, Union Kitchen is helping soon-to-open restaurants as well. The facility is becoming a place where upcoming restaurants can test out menu items before they officially open their doors. The Dabney's team turned to Union Kitchen before the restaurant opened last fall. And now, anticipated projects such as Espita Mezcaleria (opening in Shaw), and the forthcoming restaurants in The Watergate Hotel have all used the facility for training and recipe testing while their spaces were under construction. "While it’s certainly not core to our food incubator model, it’s definitely an area we’re expanding into," Mary Beth Marks, Union Kitchen's Director of Marketing and Partnerships, tells Eater.
Chef Alexis Samayoa of Espita Mezcaleria began working there because co-owners Josh and Kelly Phillips live nearby. It's a huge improvement over testing in a home kitchen, where recipes designed for restaurant volume can easily overwhelm a small space, he said. "When you’re opening a restaurant there's a difference between the fire that comes out of stove and a commercial kitchen," he said. "They also have industrial equipment like big mixers and big dishwashers."
The chef, who's new to D.C., also connected with other industry people at Union Kitchen. Among those people was Michael Santoro, executive chef of The Watergate Hotel, slated to open at the end of March.
"If you try to wait a couple of weeks before construction is done, you’re basically paying rent to train," Santoro said. When he looked at his own project's construction timeline, he realized there wouldn't have much time to train at the property before opening. That's when he found Union Kitchen.
There's also an intangible benefit of belonging to the food incubator. Santoro was introduced to a slew of local products made by Union Kitchen members like Undone Chocolate, Compass Coffee, and Capital Kombucha, and others. He hopes to use them at the Watergate in minibars, on banquet menus, or maybe even for turn-down service. 'I'm a huge local business and small business proponent and have a lot of respect for people who sacrifice so much for that," he says. "I got to meet a whole lot of people while I was there. It was really fruitful. "