EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 18, 2013

Derry incubator bakes up food businesses

Entrepreneur helps startup food companies

By John Toole

---- — DERRY — Neelima Gogumalla is cooking up business in a plaza on Manchester Road.

Her recipe, as founder of Creative Chef Kitchens, calls for mixing entrepreneurs with what she describes as a business incubator for foodies.

As many as 18 businesses are in various stages of startup.

“It is so easy for a startup to come in here for two or three days and learn about what they need to do,” Gogumalla said.

Cinde Vandette of Hampstead is just putting Nuts Over Fish on the commerce stove.

She’s hoping the topping, which she said goes best with salmon, will catch on through consumers at fish markets, including Boston.

“Neelima has been amazing with referrals and ideas,” Vandette said, as she organized yesterday at the incubator.

Contacts and networking she is finding through the incubator are assets as she launches the business, she said.

“Everybody’s sharing ideas,” Vandette said.

Chef Jeannine Carney of Derry was at a work station in the kitchen, developing her new catering business, The Purple Puffin.

Six weeks into her business plan, Carney has already landed a plum, a contract with Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry where she anticipates serving flat breads, paninis and small plate meals by the middle of next month.

“What a great place to go to test recipes,” said Carney, a veteran chef with more than 20 years experience, as she whipped up cake lollipops for an upcoming birthday party. “This is very well outfitted, probably the best kitchen I’ve worked in.”

Gogumalla, a Windham resident, is herself an experienced, award-winning entrepreneur. She owns Narastyle, a biodegradable consumer products company.

Her love of business and food led her to launch Creative Chef Kitchens in April.

“I got the idea from reading about restaurants and food businesses that don’t always work out,” she said.

She realized there are incubators for fashion, for technology, even for writing, but few for a popular, but challenging business field in the food industry.

Gogumalla is encouraged by her early results and expects the business will develop food service companies in northern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire.

Caterers, bakers and sauce makers are among her first clients.

They pay a minimum of $25 an hour to use the facilities. The rate decreases the more time they work out of the incubator.

The entrepreneurs get help with everything from licensing to packaging to marketing.

Jamie Ruel of Windham is the owner of Miss Bailey’s All American Comfort Food, whose customers for her products like apple crisp have included Canobie Lake Park, McKinnon’s Market, fairs and festivals.

“Huge” is how Ruel describes the incubator’s effect on her business, staffed by up to eight relatives and friends.

“From soup to nuts, they’ve made it easy for us to come in and do what we need to do,” Ruel said.

Just take production.

“This has cut our time down from two days to six hours,” she said.

But Ruel also has seen a savings in startup costs.

“I didn’t have to come up with the financing to create this for myself,” she said, gesturing around the kitchen.

Others agree.

“It’s a great facility,” said Jennifer LeClair of Hudson, who is starting The Epicure’s Jar, a gluten-free specialty foods company. “I offer an option to people on a gluten-free diet. I don’t use any rice in my gluten-free baking.”

Creative Chef Kitchens provided LeClair’s company with the essentials.

“Everything I could possibly need,” she said. “That mixer is my best friend, it’s 300 cups.”

LeClair plans to market to stores.

“I hope to become big enough to have my own commercial kitchen,” she said.

But Creative Chef is big enough for now.

“I love how Neelima calls it an incubator because that’s how we become viable businesses,” LeClair said.

Gogumalla said loves watching the businesses come to life and helping them through the process.

“Every new person who comes in is a new idea that gets my mind going and I love it,” Gogumalla said.