Inside the Organic Food Incubator, a Willy Wonka Factory for Healthy Foods | Healthyish


We have coworking spaces in every neighborhood, startup clubs, and members-only houses for laptopping by the pool, but what if your new business idea involves mashing up wild mushrooms or brewing batches of fermented bubbly? What if, instead of wifi, you need a temperature-controlled kitchen?

In sleepy Bloomfield, New Jersey, a small factory is quietly operating as a coworking space for the food and beverage world—producing fermented condiments, bags of turmeric powder, chlorella-containing kombucha, and a host of other small-batch, healthy products. The Organic Food Incubator, as it’s called, bridges the gap between back-of-the-napkin visions and grocery store shelves.

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The Organic Food Incubator in Bloomfield, NJ

In other words: “We make people’s ideas real,” says Mike Schwartz, co-founder of the incubator.

When I visit him at OFI, the whole place smells like vanilla; I later learn that it’s a lip-balm production day. Schwartz greets me with a bottle of ‘buch and we sit down in a conference room that clearly hasn’t been used for any presentations lately (or ever). It’s scattered with product samples like sultana chutney and a weight-loss elixir with a label that is NSFW. He shows me a hot-sauce bottle with a corked-top, from a potential new client. “This is definitely not legal,” he says. Later, as we tour the the incubator, I feel like I’m in a big cabinet of curiosities. Every turn reveals a different wonder, from the fermentation room to the safe-zone allergen area to the shrink-wrap machine that, as an herbal-product maker myself, I’d be thrilled to have access to. Schwartz is effusive about every company he mentions, from Big T NYC, a “couture tea” company, to Golde, which makes turmeric blended with powdered coconut milk and black pepper. He works with about six cold-brew-coffee companies—all of them, he says, “are the best.”

OFI came about after Schwartz and some friends started making fermented soda syrups and kombucha in an apartment in Midtown Manhattan in 2009. When they ran out of counter space, they leased a 22,000 square-foot warehouse with 18 kitchens in Queens and started renting it to their small-batch-food-producing friends.

“It just kind of snowballed from there,” says Schwartz.

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Employees at Free Bread, a manufacturer of gluten-free breads, make hamburger buns in their kitchen at the OFI.

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Within months, they were sharing space with more than 30 companies, including TurmericALIVE (now Temple Turmeric), Love Grace Foods, Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Co. (now, Chloe’s Fruit), Rawpothecary, Juice Press, and Liquiteria. The guidelines for joining were simple: products had to be vegetarian, gluten-free and mostly organic (some products, like foraged herbs, aren’t always eligible for organic certification) with no preservatives and no high fructose corn syrup.

Rent hikes eventually pushed the collective west to New Jersey. Now, in addition to running his own company, BAO Food and Drink, Schwartz serves as a consultant, co-packer, and mentor for OFI’s tenants.

“The community itself has been amazing,” says Lianna Sugarman, Founder & CEO of LuliTonix, a raw blended juice company. With OFI’s help, the company grew from serving small local clients to Whole Foods within a couple of years. “You get to know each other and share info, tips, and ingredients with so many other interesting entrepreneurs.”

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Chef Veronica Wheat bottles her Chef V’s Organic Green Drink.

After the tour, Schwartz introduced me to Philip Crouse, founder of Cup & Compass, a private-label beverage company that creates custom, organic drinks for restaurants like Bareburger and Dos Toros.

“Mike is an absolute soldier for people at this stage of the business,” says Crouse. He’s since outgrown the incubator and now works with hundreds of restaurants around the world.

“I get a lot of gratification out of helping entrepreneurs,” says Schwartz. “Because, early on, no one would help us.”

He hands me a bottle of his own company’s best-seller before I leave, the Kale & Dandelion Green Slaw, and, even though it’s meant to be eaten with a fork, I drink some of the salty fermented broth before I’m out of the parking lot.

The Organic Food Incubator is accepting new clients, so if you’ve got a idea napkin collecting dust somewhere, perhaps it’s time for a trip to Jersey.



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