Businesses are still trying to rebuild after the Pilotworks shutdown, but many also want to rebuild the food community they shared at the incubator space.
About 50 businesses shuttered after Pilotworks abruptly closed its doors, Jay Solly, co-founder of Brooklyn Quality Eats, a prepared meals business, told Bushwick Daily. Brooklyn Quality Eats is not currently in production since the closure. In November, Solly and his business partner, Barbara Pangilinan, or “Chef B,” joined with businesses and community leaders to start Sustainable United Neighborhoods (SUN), an initiative to advance the green economy and support local, independent businesses. They applied for 501(c)3 status in January. Part of that effort has been planning how to move forward after Pilotworks.
Brooklyn Independent Food Collective started as a group of food businesses that formed to pursue legal action against Pilotworks. Though a judgment of illegal lockout allowed eight businesses to return to Pilotworks after the shutdown until Dec. 8, they were unable to receive any money owed.
Now, the group wants a fresh start — and is hoping to build a food incubator and shared commercial kitchen in Bushwick, potentially a shared space with Bushwick Generator. The space would be managed by SUN.
“I’ve reached out to dozens of former Pilotworks makers, and many are diligently focused on rebuilding, but the response to maintaining the community and the idea of a future for independent food in Brooklyn was positive and encouraging,” Solly said. “In the next few weeks, we will be hosting an informational session for previous Pilotworks makers, future culinary innovators, and the community at large.”
The effort includes partners like Moore Street Market Merchants Association, NYCEDC, Mi Casa, Bushwick Generator and Pratt Design Corps, along with allies like Moore Street Alliance, Graham Avenue BID, Heritage Radio Network and Community Board 1.
“The larger context is what are we doing to allow entrepreneurship to bloom and blossom in Brooklyn? How do you assure Brooklyn’s independent community of makers doesn’t crumble?” Solly said.
Being managed by a nonprofit would create better oversight for a food incubator, something the food businesses are demanding, he said. Solly is an entrepreneur and food access activist with years of policy work experience, including consulting for Brooklyn nonprofits focused on transitional housing and homeless veterans and developing nonprofits for housing placement for survivors of Hurricane Maria.
Though Solly admits this is a “passion project,” he’s in it to win it.
“We’re not going to let Pilotworks and a bunch of tech bros derail our peers,” he said. “We believe Brooklyn is a very resilient community.”
Starting March 23, there will be a 5-week “Sustainable Saturdays” workshop series at Moore Street Market, ending the weekend before Earth Day, focused on issues that affect NYC residents, like energy spending, sustainable food access and getting better air quality in NYCHA.
A fundraiser at the Williamsburg Hotel in late April will raise money for more programming and paid interns for SUN’s community partners.
Another of Solly’s projects, SustainTable, a partnership with Chef Ricardo Lopez, will reopen at Moore Street Market in early April. The pop-up features health-focused artisanal sandwiches, teas and treats.
After months of darkness, there appears to be some light, hopefully enough to fuel our local food economy well into the future.
All images courtesy of SustainTable.