October 2014

At EatsPlace, Eat Dreams—And Achieve Your Own

Washington native Katy Chang’s father brought her into his kitchen, and on Wednesday, October 8, she started bringing many others into her own. Chang’s food incubator, EatsPlace, opened last week and was “flooded with guests” eager to taste the products of the first two pop-up food businesses: Mason Dixie Biscuit Co. and DC Born & Raised. The businesses will temporarily utilize Chang’s commercial kitchen and restaurant to cultivate and refine their culinary concepts before “hatching” into their own, independent space.

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Culinary incubators are growing nationwide, including in the DC area, where Union Kitchen and MessHall also offer food entrepreneurs (“foodpreneurs”) commercial kitchen space. By offering licensed cooking spaces and providing business tips, incubators lower barriers to entry for small, local businesses. Chang’s model is somewhat different than the typical food incubator, however. Most incubators offer strictly kitchen space whereas EatsPlace will also serve as a restaurant/bar and sell local products.

Chang isn’t new to the food industry—she grew up in her father’s restaurant and has been a barista, bartender, and award-winning kimchi maker. But she constantly struggled with a lack of commercial kitchen space and knew others were in the same boat. About a year ago, Chang sought to fix that common complaint among DC chefs. She found a spot in rapidly evolving Park View, whose central location but village-like feel appealed to Chang. The location (3607 Georgia Ave NW) felt ideal for Chang who was used to hauling supplies in a rental truck, but could now stop by the farmer’s market and bike or metro to EatsPlace with fresh ingredients. Since opening, Chang says the most surprising thing has been the outpouring of support from the community and EatsPlace’s ability to connect locals through food and drink.

In the past year, Chang has renovated her rented Park View townhouse, assembled a skeleton staff, and battled legal restrictions to set up a commercial kitchen and bar space. Although the process was arduous, Chang hopes that by taking care of the logistics, local food businesses will be able to jump right in and begin experimenting. She wants EatsPlace to be a place where chefs aren’t afraid to pursue their dreams and can instead take risks that result in real culinary innovation. While encouraging experimentation, however, Chang wants EatsPlace residencies to leave as commercially viable businesses; her hope is that EatsPlace will arm local food startups with the resources and experience requisite to succeed in the hypercompetitive DC market. To do so, Chang and EatsPlace advisers will offer mentorships and courses to the incubating businesses who will be encouraged to implant their own staff of servers, bartenders, and hosts at EatsPlace.

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Applying for a spot at EatsPlace is competitive. Mason Dixie Biscuit Co. and DC Born & Raised secured the first opportunity to serve customers this week. Although the first two businesses have a southern tinge, Chang says the only common thread between future pop-ups will be assured deliciousness. In fact, the kitchen was constructed to accommodate a wide range of cuisines; Chang sees vegan food, pizza, and Asian concepts in the future. Incubation periods will be as short as one week, but Chang encourages longer residencies so chefs can experiment and refine concepts. Longer incubation periods also avoid “pop-up panic” among customers and provide ample time for foodies to scope out the new businesses. For now, Mason Dixie will serve weekday breakfast and lunch while DC Born & Raised will handle weekday dinner and weekend brunch. Chang will serve up craft cocktails featuring her own line of bitters (also for sale) at the bar. EatsPlace will feature local products, such as Qualia coffee, and offer cooking classes in the basement at Baba’s Cooking School.

So why should 730DC readers check out EatsPlace? For the opportunity to “eat someone’s dreams” according to Chang. I could get into that.

Mason Dixie Biscuit Co. will offer breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday 7AM-1:30PM. DC Born & Raised will serve dinner all week 5-10PM and weekend brunch. Drinks@EatsPlace offers libations Sunday-Thursday til midnight and Friday-Saturday til 1AM. EatsPlace is located at 3607 Georgia Ave NW (Georgia Ave/Petworth Metro).

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