Cooking up a food biz test kitchen

Former village trustee Bob Tucker involved in development

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

A former Zenith Electronics factory in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood is going through a transformation and will soon re-emerge as an industrial kitchen space for both fledgling entrepreneurs as well as established food-production businesses.

It will be the third and newest location for Los Angeles-based Amped Kitchens, which purchased the 117,000-square-foot facility at 5801 W. Dickens Ave. with a $4 million loan from JPMorgan Chase.

Those funds were directed to the project through LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) Chicago and the Chicago Community Loan Fund.

Bob Tucker, a former Oak Park village trustee and chief operating officer of Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF), said LISC first identified the project and brought in CCLF on the deal.

Banks contribute financing and loans earn credits through the federal Community Reinvestment Act, Tucker explained, which aims to help develop low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.

JPMorgan Chase invested $10 million in CCLF, and $4 million was sent to the Amped Kitchens project, while the remaining funds will be used for other projects around the city, Tucker said.

The goal is to "bring jobs and amenities to communities that have been lacking them for dozens and dozens of years," he added.

Amped is in the process of renovating about 70,000 square feet of the building, while the remaining space is currently an operational warehouse, according to Amped co-founder Mott Smith, who said the facility is not a food incubator, as some have characterized it, but a facility that provides a semi-permanent home for companies that have graduated from the incubator level.

At the company's two Los Angeles facilities, numerous restaurant groups use the space as a central kitchen to produce items that are sold at multiple locations, rather than using the kitchen space at each individual facility.

Amped also serves as a test kitchen of sorts for companies that are working to scale up but might not be ready to begin manufacturing at a major facility. Moving a product to be manufactured in a major facility can cost hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars.

"It's a challenge for companies to make that leap from something in a test kitchen to 'Do we want to spend a million dollars on a major facility?'" he said.

Companies come to Amped to manufacture their products, Smith said, "in a fully-licensed, top-quality wholesale environment with the intention of iterating the product and getting feedback.

"By the time they do make the million-dollar investment, they've really gotten the product fully developed, and they know what they're doing."

In one of Amped's Los Angeles facilities, the popular Beyond Burger was developed, Smith said. The company that developed Beyond Burger was well established before opening shop at Amped to develop the burger. Amped hosted the company for about a year while they perfected the meatless alternative burger, according to Smith.

Tucker said it is this kind of innovation that CCLF is hoping to cultivate through its development projects. He noted that Amped and its 64 kitchen spaces is projected to bring in about 200 new jobs to the area.

"We're going to have wonderful stories coming out of this Chicago facility for years to come," Tucker said.

tim@oakpark.com

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