Niles culinary incubator helps food businesses get off the ground
“What could we stand doing for the rest of our lives if we had to start all over?”
This simple question from head baker Deanna Briggs and her husband, Chris, was the inspiration behind Excalibur Bakery, the business they launched at the Niles Entrepreneurial & Culinary Incubator and Niles Market.
Deanna and Chris were taking a hard look at their livelihood. They owned a massage and personal training business at the time. Deanna was a massage therapist and Chris was a personal trainer. Deanna was “physically burning out” from doing massage and, due to the economic downturn, their clients had less to spend on extras like massage and personal training.
That night, the couple was discussing closing their business.
“Bread was baking in the oven, and I was rolling out dumplings for a pot of soup while we talked,” says Deanna. “We were doing some soul searching. What could we stand doing for the rest of our lives if we had to start all over? I stopped, gestured to what I was doing, and said, ‘This.’” Chris, who had just checked on some cheese the couple had made, agreed.
A Community Resource
Deanna and Chris started Excalibur Bakery in June 2015 with a third partner, David Porter.
Excalibur is one of seven clients that make use of the Niles Entrepreneurial & Culinary Incubator (NECI), which offers a fully equipped commercial kitchen as well as meeting spaces and offices to chefs, bakers, caterers and farmers. Other businesses using the space now include Katharos Catering, Smokin’ D BBQ, SugarElla's Catering, Sweet Indulgence, Sweet Treats Food Truck and Warren Washington Catering.
NECI is a project of Niles Downtown Development Authority Main Street’s Economic Vitality committee. Originally funded by a local foundation, the organization now runs on fees clients pay to use its services.
It is an invaluable resource for start-ups like Excalibur Bakery, who are spared the expense of building out a commercial kitchen solely for their businesses. “We use the incubator kitchen to do all of our baking, packaging, everything,” says Deanna. The bakery also meets clients there to go over orders and works with their business mentors from SCORE, a nonprofit association dedicated to supporting small businesses.
NECI is “a fantastic resource,” adds Deanna. “We have gotten so much experience from flying with this safety net that we can take with us when we go forward and open a storefront.”
Rocio Sheyko, owner and baker behind Sweet Treats Food Truck, agrees. The baked goods company, which specializes in cakes, cupcakes and other “sweet treats,” uses the kitchen at NECI to bake all its cakes and cupcakes, then transports them to various selling spots in its food truck. “The incubator has been a convenient place for our business since there weren’t any good options in the South Bend area to rent commercial space,” says Rocio, who runs the business with her husband, John.
Niles Market Redux
One other benefit of working with NECI is its crossover with the Niles Market, also run by Niles Main Street. Many NECI clients have sold their fare at the downtown market.
Program manager Lisa Croteau says the market, which started in May, is being reinvented this year. “Our market will be part of the new, fun Alley Activation project. We’ll be working to transform the alleys in the 200 block of Main Street into our downtown outdoor event space.” Taking place alongside the market is Art in the Alley, a project highlighting doorways painted by local artists, which is meant to encourage visitors to explore Niles’s streets and shops.
Excalibur Bakery sells at the Niles Market. Deanna says they love the location and seeing familiar faces stop by their booth. “Niles is becoming a bit of a foodie town, I think, and they really appreciate our artisan breads and our pies with the decorative crusts. The sense of community between the vendors is great, too.”
Many downtown businesses and community organizations will be participating in the market day festivities this year, including The Brass Eye and the Paris Soda Co.
The market will run on Saturdays, 7am–noon, and Sundays 11am–3pm. Niles Main Street is currently seeking artisan food and craft vendors, as well as antiques and collectibles vendors. “We have space for up to 60 vendors and are looking for all things unique and wonderful,” says Croteau.
Both the Niles Market and NECI have given local businesses, like Excalibur Bakery, resources to fuel their dreams. “The idea of feeding people something special, something that they couldn’t easily get anywhere else, spreading the warm fuzzies you get from a good meal or a special treat Grandma used to make,” says Deanna, is what it’s all about for them.