May 09, 2017
This Venture's Giving Food Entrepreneurs a Chance.
A Culinary Incubator from Beijing This venture's giving food entrepreneurs a chance. In a city like Beijing, high rent and red tape barriers can make it near impossible for new players to break into food and beverage services. Hatchery is providing the resources to test food concepts at low risk. How does it work?
Pop-up restaurants are often framed as novelty food experiences, one-off opportunities to sample something new in an unexpected location. But for early-career chefs and entrepreneurs, pop-ups provide a rare chance to test the viability of a food concept at low cost and low commitment. In Beijing, where expat-geared F&B remains fairly tight knit, a Chinese venture is redefining the pop-up with local entrepreneurs in mind. Launched this year by two long-haul Beijing expats, Stew Johnson and Alex Worker, Hatchery is a full kitchen restaurant and bar designed to showcase food concepts in the early stages of development. James Johnson and Dave Ball are also involved as culinary creators.
Currently in house is Mighty Mo’s, serving New Zealand mussels and craft beers imported from New Zealand and Australia. The concept will rotate out in several months, ideally having found investors for a permanent installation elsewhere. “Hatchery was founded with a mission of connecting everyone in the market—entrepreneurs, venues, customers, and investors—around the development of new ideas in a way that everyone wins,” Johnson said in an interview with UiCulture. “With our own space now, we can leverage this model on a bigger scale to build a destination for customers, support more entrepreneurs and grow their businesses with more and more venues in this great city.”
Johnson and Worker had become frustrated with the city’s lack of new food and beverage options despite growing demand, he said. Two key bottlenecks for F&B entrepreneurs were high risks and barriers to entry for new players, and old players underutilizing expensive assets. Before Hatchery opened in January, the team tested two food concepts in a traditional pop-up format elsewhere in Beijing: Buena Onda, serving ceviche and shrimp, and Soul Bowls, healthy breakfast nutrition bowls. By operating out of existing venues, they were able to prove demand for the concepts while driving revenue for their temporary homes. “We are into testing new concepts, mixing things up and seeing what the Beijing food scene is about and what it’s after,” Ball told local food blog Lum Dim Sum. “To move from one pop-up to another, with a whole different idea, is one way we can see what’s working and what’s not.” Although Hatchery is still developing its program, food entrepreneurs are expected to hit targets along a five-stage track—originating the idea, validating demand, launching the pop-up, raising investment and transitioning to an independent model.
For the time being, Hatchery takes on all downside risk in housing the company during the first three stages, Johnson said. Hatchery takes 100% of the profits during the initial launch, but as businesses transition beyond the venue the company will be experimenting with both equity and fee-based models. “It’s a pretty fluid model,” Johnson said. “The main need for our platform is that the downside risks to entrepreneurs and investors are too high at the moment, so we hope to help contain and share that downside risk in proportion to share of upside potential. That way everyone’s more incentivized.” Soul Bowls now has several interested buyers, Johnson said. But Hatchery is holding on to the concept for now--- the healthy bowls are available again, this time in the company’s own venue.