Piloted in January 2016, the Worcester Regional Food Hub is further expanding its three-tiered mission to enhance food producer and consumer networks, targeted workforce development programs, and small business incubation.
As a collaborative effort between the Regional Environmental Council (REC) and the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Food Hub program is now in its second year operating a Commercial Kitchen Incubator. The facility located at the Worcester County Food Bank at 474 Boston Turnpike Road in Shrewsbury provides a regulated commercial kitchen, culinary training, and planning assistance to support the development of food businesses by farmers, caterers, and other food entrepreneurs looking to start or grow an existing business.
The Food Hub kitchen has yielded products ranging from local jellies and pickles to organic granola, baked confections, and culturally specific foods. Program participants are local business-owners based in Central Massachusetts and range in entrepreneurial experience from 0-5 years. Most tenants are currently selling direct to customers with the goal of reaching wholesale markets within the coming year.
To help further build the program, the Food Hub announced on March 23, 2017 the hiring of Worcester native Neil Rogers as its new kitchen operations manager.
A Shrewsbury native, Rogers brings with him over 20 years of experience in restaurant kitchens in New England. Most recently, Neil served as the executive chef de cuisine for Niche Hospitality Group in Central Massachusetts. Prior to that role, Rogers held positions as executive chef for Tomasso Trattoria and Enoteca/Panzano Market in Southborough; regional manager for Texas-based Love Shack celebrity restaurant group; and as chef de cuisine for Max’s Oyster Bar/Trumbull Kitchen/ Max’s Tavern in Hartford, Conn. and Springfield. He was chosen as one of the Chamber’s 2016-17 leadership development program participants. He also was honored as Worcester’s Best Chef by Foodies of New England in 2014, and as a 2015 Worcester Business Journal 40 Under 40 recipient.
“I look forward to this next chapter in my professional career and assisting budding entrepreneurs and start-ups get their food businesses off the ground,” Rogers said. “This is also an opportunity to give back to the community that has given so much to me, and to help strengthen and grow the food economy in Central Massachusetts. I see great potential in this project and working closely with the Chamber and REC to create opportunities for tenants who are striving to reach a goal and success.”
In this new role, Rogers will manage day-to-day operations of the Commercial Kitchen Incubator program of the Worcester Regional Food Hub. Neil will be the primary point of contact for tenants, taking them from an intake process through to producing their food products in a licensed commercial kitchen. Additionally, Rogers will provide onsite assistance to support the development of food businesses by farmers, caterers, and other food entrepreneurs looking to start or grow an existing enterprise.
“We are thrilled that Neil Rogers has accepted this very important position,” said Timothy P. Murray, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber. “The Chamber’s partnership with REC to operate the Food Hub promotes entrepreneurship in the food industry, supports our local farmers, and provides healthy choices to all. The Food Hub is making great progress toward these goals and with his incredible success in the local food scene, Neil is just the right person to take our kitchen to the next level.”
Steve Fischer, executive director of the Regional Environmental Council of Central Mass., added that Neil brings with him tremendous energy, creativity, experience and a passion for both developing the local food economy in Central Massachusetts and for making sure everyone in our community benefits equitably from that development. “We believe Neil is well positioned to help ensure the Worcester Regional Food Hub’s Incubator Kitchen project effectively serves both local farmers and aspiring entrepreneurs from Worcester’s diverse communities to start and grow their small food-based businesses,” Fischer said.