Woman-owned businesses thriving at ECDI’s Food Fort

Bleu & Fig Owner Brooke Kinsey is one of the fabulous female business owners taking advantage of a unique entrepreneurial boost available only in Columbus.

The Eddie Grayson Culinary Lab at the Economic and Community Development Institute −a fully licensed kitchen for caterers, bakers, and individual chefs− is more than 1, 200 square feet and provides our clients with all the necessary equipment to make exquisite food. ECDI opened the culinary lab at the Food Fort to anyone who wants to rent the one-of- a-kind space for just a few hours or on a weekly basis.

Kinsey, a self-proclaimed foodie, says her love of food led her to pursue a degree in culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Virginia. After cooking in various exotic locations throughout the United States, she decided to create her company in Columbus. Bleu & Fig is a full-service boutique catering and event design company with a fresh and sophisticated take on celebrations. Her goal is to serve her clients creative modern American comfort food.


Ragina Carmody Prange, co-owner and designer at Bleu & Fig, complements Kinsey’s food with breathtaking flowers.

“I love flowers, I love design, I love entertaining,” says Prange. “My favorite part of the business is working with a client and helping them realize their vision for an elegant and truly memorable event.”

Kinsey and Prange started Bleu & Fig three years ago and obtained their startup loan from ECDI. After renting another kitchen space for about two years, Bleu & Fig relocated to the Food Fort.

“We were able to lower our overhead, which was incredible,” says Kinsey. “But more importantly, we have made some invaluable friends and colleagues− people who are also small business owners and understand the struggles that you go through when you’re your own boss. An added benefit, in a business that is most definitely male-dominated, are the strong woman-owned businesses operating out of the Food Fort kitchen.”

Chef-Melissa-HuraIn addition to caterers, personal chefs like Melissa Hura are also taking advantage of the Culinary Lab at The Food Fort.

As your personal chef, Hura assesses your needs, shops for your groceries, and prepares and packages delicious meals along with easy heating instructions. As if that wasn’t perfect enough, she then delivers directly to your refrigerator or freezer!

Hura, who has been in the food industry for more than 20 years, follows an organic eating style, which has led her to create tasty, unique menus for cholesterol balance, heart health and diabetes control. She holds certifications in wellness and nutrition.

“ECDI’s support is the reason I have succeeded,” says Hura. “As a personal chef, it is almost impossible to use professional-grade equipment unless you can afford to build or rent a space. Food Fort provides me access to top-grade professional equipment at a very reasonable fee. I love the kitchen!”

Since July 2004, ECDI has provided $2.5. million in loans (23 percent of all capital loaned) to 114 female entrepreneurs. Across ECDI’s programs, more than 1,300 women have sought small business development services, including training, technical assistance, loans or Individual Development Accounts grants.

ECDI is currently able to serve 49 counties in Central, Northern and Southwestern Ohio.

Jim Pashovich, Food Fort Manager, says ECDI has created a facility and culture that helps incubate small to medium food service entrepreneurs.

The state-of-the-art building features three full kitchens, a commissary for mobiles, and full-service consulting services on site. The space provides clients with 24-hour access to the commissary, which includes the kitchen.

The mission is to give new and growing businesses the edge to thrive in the very competitive field of food service.

If you are interested in learning more about Bleu & Fig, Chef Melissa Hura, or the Food Fort, call ECDI at 614-559-0115.