Chefs preheat success at D.C. "food incubator"

Food incubators help launch budding restauran... 04:31

Entrepreneurs looking to get a leg up in the food industry are seeking a new pathway to success. So-called "food incubators" are popping up in commercial kitchen spaces across the country, and if you've ever dreamed of having your own restaurant or catering business, it's a good place to start, reports CBS News correspondent Chip Reid.

It may be tight quarters at Union Kitchen in Washington, D.C., but Sarah Frimpong isn't complaining, because she's getting the opportunity to pursue her dream.

Union Kitchen is a food incubator; a place where wannabe chefs and food entrepreneurs can come to get a foothold in the business.

In the last five years, they've been sprouting up all across the country and now number about 150. Some have become so popular, including incubators in Boston and Philadelphia, that they're expanding into larger locations.

A serious foodie, she starts at 5 a.m., six days a week, to make hundreds of salads and sandwiches that she sells to local high-end stores. And her dream is big. She hopes to open a number of shops down the road.

In those tight quarters, shooting for the stars appears to be contagious.

"Become the best vegan caterer in the city. That's my goal," Michael Moon said.

His burgers made of beets and avocados are a pretty good start.

Union Kitchen's co-owner, Jonas Singer, started the business just two and a half years ago. Since then, he has received inquiries from more than 1,000 prospective members, but said he rents his small food stations only to people who have a serious plan.

"People need to come in with a real sense of how they're going to make money, how their business is going to be sustainable and efficient," Singer said. "They don't have to have the answers to every question, but we're certainly not in the market for hobbyists."

Singer's staff now provide help on everything from distribution to book keeping, but there's one thing you don't need to rent space-- a lot of money.

Douglas Singer, no relation to the owner, has been making cured meats at Union Kitchen for just a year and hopes to have his own shop within six months.

Cheap rent, he said, is just one reason to start at a food incubator. It's also a learning experience.

"More so you have the benefit of collaboration. You develop some friendships. Some of them even become customers," Singer said.

Union Kitchen even rents office space to an in-house graphic artist to help with packaging and design.

At a recent tasting event meant to introduce grocery buyers to kitchen members, Torie Partridge said that just like her culinary counterparts, she one day hopes to make it on her own.

"That's what's so great about Union Kitchen," Partridge said. "It's a place where you start your business, you start it small, you start it with a limited level risk that they help to kind of cushion, and then you get so big that you get to spread your wings and go out on your own."

That's exactly what Meredith Tomason did.

"I'm thrilled, beyond belief," she said. "It's a dream come true."

After two years at Union Kitchen she opened Rare Sweets bakery in downtown Washington in December.

If not for Union Kitchen, she said, she wouldn't have been able to open her current location at such a young age.

"And it wouldn't have happened this fast at all," she said. "They were really integral to us getting here."

She now has 10 employees making cakes and pastries, some are based on historical recipes. Her red velvet cake dates back to 1850.

Not surprisingly, they taste like success.