While ceremonial ribbon-cutting events are typically low-key affairs reserved for civic and business leaders, over 150 people registered to formally welcome Foodie Labs to St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District Thursday.
The innovative facility intersects food and art by providing a creative showcase for culinary entrepreneurs. Foodie Labs, located at 515 22nd St. S. on the ArtsXChange campus, offers six ghost kitchens, two bake stations, a professional demonstration kitchen, two shared kitchens and event space.
Transforming the building was an arduous process. Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, compared it to fitting a “square peg in a round hole” at Thursday’s ceremony.
“There’s nothing else like this in St. Pete or the Tampa Bay area,” Steinocher said. “This is something pretty awesome; pretty amazing.”
The unique concept is the brainchild of business partners Jim Pachence and Kristin McKinney Zelinsky. Pachence, a former biotechnology scientist, later founded the Serious Foodie sauce and spice company.
Pachence said the Foodie Labs dream was born after he and Zelinsky noticed a missing market segment. He explained that there are no clear pathways to success for those hoping to enter the culinary industry.
Pachence said the two decided to create an opportunity for budding food and beverage entrepreneurs. Most beginners will start by utilizing the shared kitchen and building their brand, which he called “one of the most important things.”
Once established, they could then graduate to a ghost kitchen space. Those soared in popularity during the pandemic and offer commercial facilities for pick-up and delivery – often through mobile applications.
“Eventually, we connect them with the right people in the community so they can build a brick-and-mortar, if that’s what they want,” Pachence added. “But we teach them along the way.”
Mentoring is a key aspect of the Foodie Labs experience. In addition to cooking skills, entrepreneurs will learn how to set up and organize a commercial kitchen and open a standalone business.
“We really want this to be a soup-to-nuts culinary education opportunity,” Pachence said. “And that’s what we’ve built here.”
Zelinsky has over 25 years of experience in the industry and owns the Pro Kitchen Hub in Tampa. However, she was raised in St. Pete and called returning to the city her “ultimate dream.”
Zelinsky said attendees could utilize the event space for networking, corporate dinners, intimate engagements and nearly any other function. She noted that bakers, caterers and beverage companies operate at Foodie Labs, and customers can have food delivered to their offices through the website’s directories.
Nearby establishments carry QR code menus, and Zelinsky is working to increase distribution. The campus receives over 1,000 visitors during monthly Second Saturday ArtWalk events, and Foodie Labs offers live music through a partnership with Seven C Music & Coffee shop next door.
“Each time I’ve done something with business, I keep feeling like, ‘Wow, I couldn’t possibly feel differently than I do now,” Zelinsky said. “This does feel a lot different for me at this point because of St. Pete. This is my place.”
Vendors pay a flat rate through a 12-month lease. Foodie Labs provides the necessary equipment and cover utilities, allowing culinary entrepreneurs to focus on their brands and products.
Zelinsky explained that building owners must often navigate the food and beverage industry’s high turnover rates. She believes Foodie Labs will foster better brick-and-mortar tenants.
“It may not be the location; it just might be that they’re not ready,” Zelinksy added. “So, we want to get them ready here.”
Mayor Ken Welch said the occasion was more than a celebration of a new culinary concept. He noted Foodie Labs sits along the historic Deuces (22nd St. S.) Corridor and is roughly a half mile from the former Gas Plant District’s $6.5 billion redevelopment project.
“It’s also about inclusive progress,” Welch said. “I love everything you all do – and if you haven’t had Toasty Bros, you haven’t lived – to uplift, educate and help entrepreneurs that are coming up. It’s another exciting day in St. Pete.”
For a list of Foodie Labs vendors, visit the website here.