ECDI and A&R Creative Group Establish Innovative Partnership Enhancing Central Ohio’s Food-Based Economy

Photo by Walker Evans

The A & R Creative Group, a local food-based business development company, will be partnering with ECDI and the Food Fort, enhancing services currently provided to over 60 clients at the food-based business incubator. With an extended focus on industry-specific training, knowledge building & sharing, and entrepreneur mentorship, The Columbus Growing Collective, sister company of A & R Creative group, will assist local food entrepreneurs in navigating Central Ohio’s complex food system.

Originally established by Abed Alshahal, Chief Strategist of A & R Creative Group, The Growing Collective takes a holistic approach at examining the complex food ecosystem unique to Central Ohio, by bringing major cohorts together — farmers, food producers, distributors, purchasers, as well as relevant policy makers — to facilitate the sustainable growth of Columbus’ food system. With an extended focus on local economic development, The Growing Collective has created a platform for active civic engagement, strengthening relationships that make up the primary pillars of Central Ohio’s constantly evolving food system.

Photo by Walker Evans

“What initially inspired me to get into the service industry was the opportunity to showcase the dynamics of a food system from a space that touches on every aspect,” Alshahal said. “When we received the opportunity to purchase The Crest, I thought it was important to creatively find ways to not only engage the customers with our food, but also engage the community, utilizing our space as a platform for social change.”

Alshahal has helped organized events at The Crest, which brought restaurant owners, food producers, and city officials together to discuss barriers that hinder the growth of Central Ohio’s food-based economy. It was only after the first few civic engagement opportunities that he found himself doing as much work building relationships with food-based peers as he working for the actual restaurants he owned and operated himself. This led to the organic creation of The Columbus Growing Collective.

“I quickly realized, just through a few initial experiences I shared with others, that it would be more impactful to have an organization focused on the Columbus’ food system, specifically spurring economic development around the food system, Alshahal said. “By creating dynamic engagement, we can strategize and plan around the needs of our peers, benefitting our industry as a whole.”

Overseeing both the ownership and management of eight restaurants that include both Crest locations, The Market – Italian Village, and 4th Street Bar & Grill, A & R Creative Group has created over 300 jobs in Central Ohio. By only utilizing locally sourced ingredients and distribution chains, A & R Creative Group has created a powerful “ripple-effect,” positively impacting the local food agricultural, processing, and distribution industries.

A & R Creative Group’s expertise in helping shape Central Ohio’s “foodie-footprint” led to ECDI’s introduction to Alshahal. His journey as a local entrepreneur who has overcome many of the barriers faced by small business owners adds to the partnership’s mutually supportive purpose – creating more jobs locally, while strengthening the businesses operating within Central Ohio’s food system.

Photo by Mollie Lyman
Photo by Mollie Lyman

“This will be a great partnership…one that takes a successful local company’s collective expertise to help enhance the services we’ve provided to our food-based clients throughout the years,” Terry Traster, manager of the Food Fort, said. “When you look at the restaurants in A & R Creative Group’s portfolio, it is clear they know how to build a business the right way. The real world experience Abed and his team bring is highly valuable to our clients, and we look forward to further developing our collaboration.”

Immediate plans include developing new training opportunities for both ECDI and Food Fort clients by utilizing The Growing Collective and their network of local food system and business experts. Current client needs are being assessed, which will help shape initial training and networking opportunities. With plans to also work with city and county officials on strengthening local food action plans, ECDI and A & R Creative Group hope to pave an easier path for startup entrepreneurs operating within Central Ohio’s complex food system.

“The hardest part of establishing our first restaurants were the unexpected aspects of the business you aren’t thinking about,” Alshahal stressed. “When you’re opening a restaurant, you’re obviously thinking about the service, execution in the kitchen, and recipe costing and creation, but you may overlook important things. Many startups collapse because of fundamental mistakes. Whether it is location selection, lease negotiation, understanding what products should be costing, who to call when equipment goes down or City regulation. We must continue to educate business owners so they can understand all the pieces, allowing us all to grow our food system collectively.”

For more information on the robust services ECDI and the Food Fort provide small businesses and budding entrepreneurs, visit

Photos by Walker Evans
Photos by Walker Evans