For food entrepreneurs, the Incubator at Calverton is a great gift

When his catering business went into the offseason in 2012, Steven Amaral decided to keep his hands busy by making chocolate. The idea came as an epiphany.

One day during his meditation session, the word “chocolate” came up in his mind, although he had not made chocolate since culinary school. Having worked in the food industry for over 30 years — first as a sous chef at a hotel in Hawaii, later as a consultant for a restaurant chain in Boston — he was familiar with foods and quickly learned everything he could about chocolate on the internet. The next step would be to turn his epiphany into a business.

But he needed a kitchen — not just any home kitchen, but the kind with big tables and machines for roasting cocoa beans, pressing nectars and cooling the chocolate paste.

“We would drive by different places looking for [kitchens] … It’s hard to find a kitchen to rent in Suffolk County,” Mr. Amaral said.

Eventually he found the Stony Brook Food Business Incubator at Calverton, which offers workspaces to entrepreneurs, and rented a space there. Two years later, his shared-kitchen workshop grew into a chocolatier — North Fork Chocolate Company — and he “graduated” from the program, using what he learned to open a brick-and-mortar store in Aquebogue.

There are currently more than 70 food startups benefiting from the food incubator as Mr. Amaral did. Started in 2012, the Calverton facility shared kitchens, storage and separate rooms to support food startups on Long Island. The building can host up to 200 businesses at once, assigning resources based on individual needs such as time, storage space, team size and equipment.

“We know Long Island is very expensive,” said Yvonne Schultz, the incubator manager who oversees the daily operation of the facility. “So we know that they need to be incubated. They need to grow; they need to be nurtured and supported.”

Unlike commercial kitchens or other accelerators, the program does not applicants to come in with an elaborate business plan.

“When they come in, they sit with me, get a tour, and then we start a dialogue and try to understand what their process is and what do they really need here,” Ms. Schultz said.

A kitchen area at the Calverton incubator. (Credit: Joy Sze)

Susan Walsh of Hampton Bays and her son James, who lives in Huntington, started with their crumb cake business at the incubator in 2014, selling their goods at farmers markets. They have moved in and out of various rooms in the facility over the years as the company grew. Now, Clarkson Avenue Crumb Cake occupies one of the biggest rooms in the building, equipped with their own racks, tables, refrigerators and mixing machines. The mother-and-son team spends seven to 10 hours a day at the facility to fulfill their increasing number of online orders and wholesale accounts. Moving forward, they are looking to graduate from the program and go brick-and-mortar like Mr. Amaral did.

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