Last week I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast in order to meet the finalists of the Launch Pad Culinary Entrepreneur Competition. Before I tell you about that breakfast, I need to explain what it was for, and that may get a little convoluted - so stick with me! Launch Pad is a competition sponsored by Mess Hall, Ris, and Union Market.
Union Market is a revitalized indoor market area and collection of restaurants near Gallaudet University in DC. It opened in September 2012 and has about 40 shops. There are plans to add multiple levels and expand it greatly to include retail, restaurants, hotel, entertainment, and incubator space for new food concepts, as well as wholesale space.
Mess Hall is the aforementioned incubator space for new food concepts, which opened in October 2014. Their mission is to "support up-and-coming food entrepreneurs by providing commercial kitchens, combined with institutional knowledge and extraordinary opportunities."
Ris is a restaurant in DC that also has a satellite location in Union Market, it is owned/operated by chef Ris Lacoste.
Are you still with me? Great!
Back to Launch Pad - it is a competition for food entrepreneurs to launch a concept in a quick service space in Union Market. The winner of the Grand Prize will receive (according to the Launch Pad website):
- 6 – 12 month opportunity to launch a dream concept using a built out space in a prime location at Union Market
- Free Mess Hall membership
- Full Service Restaurant Pop-up opportunity at Mess Hall’s event space
- Mentorship from Ris Lacoste
- Consultation on lease negotiations with master DC restaurateurs the Hilton Brothers
- Business plan vetting and design services from EDENS
- A luncheon organized with successful restaurant investors
- And a growing list of unique prizes and opportunities courtesy of our event Sponsors.
- PLUS – All finalists will have their knives sharpened by DC Sharp.
Pretty great, right?! This is the second year for the competition, and last year the winner was Mason Dixie Biscuit Company.
You know what else is great? The list of judges and advisers for the finalists:
Al Goldberg – Founder, Mess Hall
David Hall – Investor, Revolution
Ris Lacoste – Chef / Owner, RIS
Drew Nieporent – Restaurateur, Myriad Restaurant Group
Patrick O’Connell – Chef / Owner, The Inn at Little Washington
Aaron Silverman – Chef / Owner, Rose’s Luxury
Audience Vote – Each member of the live audience will receive a single vote. The Audience Vote will count as 5% of the overall vote.
Richie Brandenburg – Directory of Culinary Strategy, EDENS
Terrell Danley – Chef, DC Central Kitchen
Eric and Ian Hilton– Restaurateurs
Kathy Hollinger– President and CEO, Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington
Eric Kessler – Founder / Managing Director, Arabella Advisors
Mike Lenard – Owner, Takorean, Former Head of the Food Truck Association
Winston Lord – Co-Founder, Venga
Spike Mendelsohn – Good Stuff Eatery, DC Food Policy Council Chair
Nick Stefanelli– Chef / Owner, Masseria
Now, let's talk about the finalists and the meet-and-greet breakfast event at Ris restaurant! There were lots of bloggers and media people there, but plenty of opportunity to speak with the finalists individually.
There was a gorgeous buffet of food, passed appetizers, and several cocktails (I liked the lemoncello and prosecco cocktail the most).
Bagel bites with smoked salmon.
Breakfast biscuits with egg and ham.
A list of the finalists and sponsors.
First up, we have Bao Bros Bar - entrepreneurs Louis Grayson and Nelson Wong want to turn the traditional Chinese bao into a fast-casual dining experience. They will offer a variety of fillings and sauces for the sticky steamed buns. I really enjoyed talking to these two, they were full of energy and passion!
Next, we have Bene - a fast-casual Italian concept from Mark Baik, Mini Suh, and Jin Woo Park. They aim to provide high-quality pasta made from locally sourced ingredients, ready in minutes, and priced reasonably. I talked to Mark quite a bit and he told me that he also wants to include wine pairings without the usual markup - hopefully with the help of his friend, who operates Swirl and Sip (one of my favorite wine shops!).
Halfsmoke is focused on sausage - pork, beef, chicken, veggie, you name it! Aspiring restaurateur Andre McCain also hopes to include seasonal specials like duck and elk. There are many options for toppings and sides, and funnel cake for dessert. The presentation for Halfsmoke was certainly the most professional and thought out, but McCain seemed reserved and quiet.
Arepa Zone already exists in food truck form, but owners Ali Arellano and Gabriela Febres hope to have a more permanent location inside Union Market. They were voted Best New Food Truck, Food Truck of the Year, and Breakthrough Dish at the 2014 Curbside Cookoff Food Truck Awards. I can't wait to try their take on this classic Venezuelan food!
Whisked is a bakery that is already well known at local farmers markets and coffee shops, and now owner Jenna Huntsberger has a chance to establish her first storefront at Union Market. She currently makes yummy pies, cookies, and quiches, but hopes to expand the menu if she wins.
So there is a first look at this year's finalists! I look forward to seeing their pitches and sampling their food at the presentations on July 12. Stay tuned!