Young and Hungry

Wannabe Restaurateurs to Test Ideas, Host Pop-Ups at Domku

It’s reminiscent of a Food Network reality series: Budding restaurateurs present a business model and cook for a panel of local restaurant industry vets. One will win the chance to pursue his or her culinary dreams.

Or at least test ideas in a professional kitchen.

Nonprofit Think Local First DC and NURISH: The Center for a Creative Culinary Economy, a new organization from Domku chef/owner Kera Carpenter, are teaming up to launch StartUp Kitchen, a mentorship program for wannabe restaurateurs to learn more about the biz before opening places of their own.

After narrowing down a pool of D.C. applicants, one will get the chance to take over the kitchen of Domku, a Slavic and Scandinavian restaurant in Petworth, once a week for six weeks. Real diners will serve as guinea pigs for part of that time.

“There’s not anything like that for the restaurant industry, where they’re really focused on nurturing emerging entrepreneurs,” Carpenter says. “The purpose is to be the support for these new businesses because there’s no one else providing it.”

Local food mavens, like Ben’s Chili Bowl owner Nizam Ali, will taste the applicants’ entrées and judge their business plans. Applications are due June 20, and the winner will receive notification July 20.

Starting in September, Carpenter will feed the winner information about the restaurant biz that she had to learn on her own—from how to price menu items to where to purchase produce.

When Domku is closed on Mondays, its kitchen will remain open to the restaurateur (and his or her staff) for the program. In the last four weeks of StartUp Kitchen, the restaurateur will test what he or she has learned by serving local customers. Tickets will be available for $35.

“Consumers will not only be able to come in, eat, and be a part of this experience, but we’re asking for their feedback,” says Stacey Price, executive director of Think Local First DC. “How that actually changes the perspective of this emerging entrepreneur will be a good test of their aptitude in this business.”

Although there isn’t a reward at the end of the process, per se, Carpenter and Think Local First DC will provide the entrepreneur with a support system beyond the six weeks at StartUp Kitchen.

“There are a lot of restaurants opening every day, but I think there are vast stretches of the city where there are no restaurants, where there are opportunities for emerging businesses to be the start of something,” Carpenter says. “There are a lot of opportunities to open businesses and change communities.”

Carpenter hopes to expand the StartUp Kitchen program to other local restaurants. Eventually, she'd like to have an independent facility to host such programs.

Domku photo courtesy of Domku

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