Ohio River Valley Food Venture

Officials celebrate opening
of new commercial kitchen

Madison facility designed
to help get products to market

By Don Ward

(October 2005) – The new Ohio River Valley Food Venture has given entrepreneurs like Theresa Long and Kathy Anderson a chance to start a catering business after having prepared and served informally the past two years at the Hanover Park.

Becky Skillman & Linda Wood

Photo by Don Ward

Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, left, greets
Southeast Indiana SBDC director Linda Wood during the Sept. 23 grand opening.

With the Sept. 23 opening of the commercial kitchen, however, the two Hanover residents plan to expand into full-service catering under the name Cookin’s My Bag. The women prepared garlic bread for the grand opening luncheon, which featured lasagna and salad, and helped escort guests on tours through the kitchen.
“I’m a singer and a hair stylist, and Kathy is a caregiver, but this is something we’ve always wanted to do,” said Long, the lead singer in the local band Tad Long. “The help we will get from this facility will make it a lot easier to get started.”
Madison Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation officials and the Small Business Development Center unveiled the new Food Venture with a luncheon attended by Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, who helped cut a loaf of bread (instead of a ribbon).
Skillman and state and local officials and guests were treated to a meal prepared in the new commercial kitchen, then toured the 5,200-square-foot facility, which is located inside the Venture Out Business Center, 975 Industrial Dr. The building is also home to the chamber and other offices. Following the luncheon, the facility was open to the public throughout the afternoon.
“I visited here about a year ago and heard about the project, and I’m thrilled to come back today and hear the early successes and congratulate you all first hand,” said Skillman.

Richard Mezoff

Photo by Don Ward

Manager Richard Mezoff gives
a tour at Food Venture.

Food Venture is a commercial kitchen that will allow entrepreneurs in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and other states to rent an FDA-certified facility for food processing. In addition to the state-of-the-art kitchen equipment, valued at more than $500,000, Food Venture has experienced staff to help clients in all aspects of developing their products and business.
Skillman noted the past reliance on tobacco in Jefferson County and how this venture could help farmers turn other crops into viable products. She also noted the nation’s recent emphasis on healthy and nutritious foods, “especially with the obesity problems that we’ve been hearing about.”
The Food Venture project for Madison was conceived nearly four years ago by three people: Linda Wood, the Southeast Indiana Small Business Development Center regional director; Jerry Hay, the USDA Rural Development official; and Connie Combs, who at the time served as president of the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce. All three attended the grand opening and were praised for their determination to see the project through to fruition.

Becky Skillman

Photo by Don Ward

Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman cuts the bread
Sept. 23 to officially open the
Food Venture commercial kitchen.

Wood said $1 million had been raised over the past four years from various federal and state grants to fund the construction of the facility. They also collected ideas from other commercial kitchens operating around the country. She credited the partnership of various government entities to make it happen, including the USDA Rural Development, Indiana Rural Development Council, Indiana Economic Development Corp, the City of Madison “and many others.”
The facility rents space by the hour to entrepreneurs, who will be assisted in various aspects of running a business. The four staff advisors are Richard Mezoff, who was recently hired as kitchen manager, Bill Cord, Andy Sons and Katrina Griffin of Connorsville. Cord and Sons have served on the SBDC staff, but Mezoff, a Boston native, in July moved to Madison from Seattle to take over his new position.
While the concept of a shared-use commercial food processing facility is new to Madison, Mezoff is not new to the field. Since 1996 he has produced a line of sauces, salsa and rubs under the brand name “Big Mama Mezoff’s” in a kitchen incubator environment in Spokane, Wash. For two years he ran his own restaurant as well. He has a wealth of knowledge about turning locally grown agricultural products into high-quality processed foods, Wood said.

Theresa Long & Kathy Anderson

Photo by Don Ward

Theresa Long and Kathy Anderson
hope to start their catering business
by using the new kitchen.

Wood and Debbie Bishop-Trocha, executive director of the statewide Indiana SBDC, used the occasion to also mark the 20-year anniversary of the SBDC in Indiana. Trocha said the the program actually started 25 years ago as a pilot program at eight universities, but Congress in 1980 passed legislation to create the SBDC program, and SBDCs now operate in all 50 states and U.S. territories. In all, there are more than 1,100 centers in the country employing 5,000 professionals.
Many people think the SBDC primarily works with new business owners, but Trocha said nearly 75 percent of their time is devoted to helping existing businesses.
Trocha later presented Wood with a plaque for all her hard work in guiding the Food Venture project.
“The SBDC has done an outstanding job here, and I don’t think people realize all the work they do,” said Madison Mayor Al Huntington. “This project is expected to create jobs and new businesses, and we are very happy to have it here in Madison.”

• Anyone interested in learning more about the new facility are urged to call Mezoff at (812) 574-4061 or visit the new website at: www.foodventure.org. Another open house is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. on Oct. 18. Public is invited.

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