ECDI Expands Food Fort to Serve More Clients

All photos provided by ECDI.

Every day at ECDI entrepreneurs come to us looking for a way to take their existing businesses or new business ideas to the next level. Over the years, as our reputation has grown, so has the demand for what ECDI offers—the tools, support, and working capital needed to transform dreams into sustainable businesses.

ECDI’s Food Fort is an example of one of those tools in high demand. This fully-licensed, affordable kitchen space is equipped to build and scale food businesses. For example, those who aspire to graduate their home-based business to a brick-and-mortar location quickly, and sometimes painfully, learn of the difficulty in achieving that dream. ECDI and the Food Fort help to bridge that gap.

As cities across the U.S. are in the midst of a culinary renaissance, kitchen incubators are popping up everywhere, allowing food-based entrepreneurs an opportunity to expand without having to secure and pay for their own commercial space. In Columbus, this invigoration has produced a growing number of food entrepreneurs looking to put their stamp on local food culture.

“ECDI’s Food Fort is at the center of a very exciting moment for Columbus,” says Terry Traster, ECDI’s Food Fort and Facilities Manager. “We have a waiting list of about 20 businesses, and it keeps growing.”

To keep up with the high demand and to serve more Columbus food entrepreneurs, ECDI is building a second facility, Food Fort 2.0, to better accommodate existing Food Fort clients that have outgrown the current facility.

“We want to be able to provide our scaling food businesses with the dedicated kitchen space and equipment needed in their next stage of development,” says Traster.

As Food Fort businesses scale, so do the demands and intricacies of their day-to-day operations. Two of the larger current Food Fort members will move into the new facility, opening up 15 spots for new businesses in the original Food Fort.

Like any other service at ECDI, Food Fort 2.0 program success will rely on an innovative pursuit of development and expansion. As the buildout has already commenced, ECDI acknowledges its responsibility to further push the needle to better serve its future members. Events such as Philanthropitch—a social impact, fast pitch competition poised to help scale innovative nonprofits—are perfectly suited to do just that.

In November 2018, ECDI was selected from a pool of more than 50 nonprofit applicants to participate in the first annual Philanthropitch Columbus event. On March 4, 2019, Traster gave a three-minute pitch to Philanthropitch judges and an audience of more than 450, asking for the funding needed to complete the Food Fort 2.0 buildout.

That night, ECDI took home $2,000 from the available cash pool, and amplified the mission and vision of ECDI and the Food Fort.

“It was an amazing opportunity to show the audience and judges and the other competing organizations what we do in the Food Fort and how it really benefits Columbus entrepreneurs,” says Traster.

The Food Fort truly levels the playing field for emerging food businesses. It offers low income, minority, women, and other nascent food entrepreneurs an affordable, licensed kitchen to start and grow their small businesses. As Food Fort 2.0 nears completion, ECDI is thrilled to increase its capacity to support aspiring food entrepreneurs in Central Ohio. In celebration of the completion of Food Fort 2.0, ECDI will host a community open house in June. The event will feature cooking demonstrations from Dos Hermanos, ECDI campus tours and more. Announcement date coming soon.

For more information, visit ecdi.org or thefoodfort.org.

This mutli-part sponsored series highlighting ECDI’s work in Columbus is presented with paid support by ECDI.

Since 2004, ECDI has assisted Ohio’s entrepreneurs through its one-stop shop business services model, suited to meet the needs of all entrepreneurs, regardless of what business stage they’re in. From providing capital to entrepreneurs looking to expand their businesses, to providing focused, business-specific educational opportunities to enhance entrepreneurial skill sets, ECDI works with their clients to meet their unique needs. Whether assisting a new client with a business concept or an accomplished entrepreneur opening a fifth location, ECDI’s “never say no” approach has allowed over twelve thousand entrepreneurs to take advantage of the services it provides. Visit ecdi.org today to learn more.


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John joined Economic & Community Development Institute in June 2017. In his role as Development Coordinator, John works in unison as a grant writer as well as part of the marketing team. Originally from Cleveland, John moved to Columbus in 2007 and attended The Ohio State University where he received his degree in Comparative Studies. He can be contacted via email at jnewman@ecdi.org or by phone at 614-732-0988.