Cooking Up Companies at Edible Enterprises

New Orleans, La. –
Dinner guests at Stacey Greco's home in Hahnville were forever saying that her remoulade sauce was so good she should bottle it. Don Militello heard much the same thing from fellow tailgaters around Tiger Stadium before LSU football games whenever he broke out an olive salad made from an old family recipe called "olive mix." And the same advice greeted Gentilly resident Monique Hodges once she started bringing her cupcakes around to family parties.

"So good you should sell it." That turns out to be fairly common praise for homemade treats, but in each of these cases the cooks took the encouragement to heart and brought their recipes to market. Each also made this leap from home cook to food entrepreneur with the help of a nonprofit food business incubator called Edible Enterprises.

Started by the social services agency Goodwill Industries, Edible Enterprises is found in a nondescript metal building in Norco, the refinery town about 10 miles upriver from Kenner. Here, more than a dozen small, start-up food companies now prepare their products in a fully-licensed, professionally-equipped commercial kitchen, renting their space by the hour.

Some of these tenants function as caterers, and that's the case for Monique Hodges and her dessert company Cake n' Cups. Many others produce food now found on local grocery shelves, like that Creole remoulade sauce from Stacey Greco's company, Omi's Gourmet Foods, and the olive mix from Militello's Gourmet Specialties.

Many such Edible Enterprises tenants have already test-driven their foods at farmers markets or festivals, and they're confident they can sell. What they get at the incubator is a shortcut to the next level. The 12,000-sqaure foot facility has three gleaming commercial kitchens, and tenants share specialized equipment for labeling and packaging that might be too expensive for them to buy on their own. These are the advantages of leasing space from any commissary kitchen or even using a restaurant's kitchen after-hours, a common enough course for start-up bakers, caterers or would-be sauce makers. But the budding entrepreneurs at Edible Enterprises also get help from this nonprofit's staff, who might give marketing advice for building a brand or show how to scale household recipes into commercial formulas.

Case in point is a company called Fromage Circa 1965. It was started by siblings Carmen and Charles Sherrouse and named for the year when their mother Mattie Sue first made a seasoned cheese ball that would become a fixture of family gatherings. Like those others encouraged by the advice that a family recipe was "good enough to sell," this brother/sister team got to work at Edible Enterprises and developed a packaged version. They're now refining a creamy cheese dip and a marinade as well, and in this way their young company is building a product line.

The mission behind Edible Enterprises is to give more locals a shot at running their own businesses and, if these ventures take off, to encourage more job creation. That's the essential function of business incubators everywhere, after all, whether they're for tech companies or design firms. But by targeting food businesses, Edible Enterprises is mining a particularly rich local resource, one that speaks to our talents, traditions and tastes. So who knows? The next business success story from south Louisiana might just trace its roots to an enthusiastic eater gushing about how some homemade epicurean delight really ought to be for sale.

Edible Enterprises
917 Third St., Norco, 985-764-1504