UpStart Kitchen Serves Up Hope in Milwaukee Neighborhood - We Raise Foundation

UpStart Kitchen Serves Up Hope in Milwaukee Neighborhood

After the 2016 civil disturbances in the Sherman Park neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wis., Parklawn Assembly of God Church made it a priority to foster communication with state and local officials and host community listening sessions.

Church leaders and Bishop Walter Harvey, Parklawn’s senior pastor at the time, saw firsthand the community’s frustration with high unemployment rates among Black males and a lack of livable wage job opportunities. They saw would-be entrepreneurs with big dreams lacking the resources, networking opportunities, and support systems necessary for getting a business off the ground.

Out of those conversations, PRISM Economic Development Corporation (EDC) was born, with UpStart Kitchen as its project. We Raise Foundation was there from the start, providing a $50,000 GrantsPlus grant in 2018.

Today, UpStart Kitchen is a fully equipped, shared-space commercial kitchen serving as an incubator for food service industry entrepreneurs passionate about their culinary niche. Entrepreneurs also benefit from resources, training, mentoring, and community connections to help launch their business—and build the neighborhood economy.

“We Raise supported us when it was just a brilliant idea,” notes Interim Director Leo Ries. “We appreciated that you stepped in early to get this thing started.”

After announcing UpStart Kitchen would be available in 2020 to rent for food preparation and storage, Ries says more than 100 inquiries came in. They approved 40 entrepreneurs to proceed through an application process.

Because this was the first endeavor of its kind, UpStart Kitchen encountered some challenges during its licensing and permitting process with the City of Milwaukee—with additional complications presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. But in June 2020, UpStart Kitchen received its Health Department license and occupancy permit, paving the way for each entrepreneur to go through the process of getting licensed for their business.

Kitchen Manager Pat Jones, a 30-year veteran of the food and beverage industry, was part of the listening session for PRISM EDC investors nearly three years ago. “My passion has always been giving back and helping people grow their business,” she says.

UpStart Kitchen entrepreneurs include caterers, packagers, bakers, and food truck operators producing a range of products from BBQ sauces to banana pudding and baby food to kombucha. Once the entrepreneurs registered with UpStart Kitchen get their licenses, they will be trained to use kitchen equipment and then can reserve time in the facility.

Shelita Furlow had built up Taste of Luv Catering over the last four years, but because of her association with UpStart Kitchen she can now move her business out of her house. Working with Jones, Furlow developed a website, menus, and a business plan. Encouraged, Furlow applied for and received a Kiva loan through Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation.

Although the pandemic stalled the opening of UpStart Kitchen, it has also brought some opportunities. UpStart’s COVID-19 Emergency Meal Program launched March 25, with Jones and volunteer entrepreneurs preparing and donating meals to local organizations serving families facing food insecurity. Ries hopes their new relationship with Hunger Task Force will lead to the establishment of a green market, where residents can access fresh fruits and veggies and UpStart’s entrepreneurs can sell their packaged products.

Jones thanks We Raise donors for supporting a program that empowers entrepreneurs. “You’re supporting people who are low-income, but who are building their dreams,” she says.

We Raise donors make it possible to support big ideas like UpStart Kitchen. Thank you for your commitment to restore hope, peace, and economic prosperity to communities like Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood.

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