The city of Amsterdam’s South Side is being sized up for a possible culinary incubator that city and county officials hope could be a launching pad for would-be restaurateurs.
The Montgomery County Business Development Center, in cooperation with the city and the office of U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, has been awarded a $75,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the feasibility of establishing the incubator.
“The idea is to enable people to get started in the restaurant business,” said Bill Roehr, senior planner for Montgomery County. “You’ve seen people with some enormous culinary skills that will open a restaurant and that restaurant will fail — and it’s not because the food is bad, it’s because they weren’t really trained to be an entrepreneur. And that’s really what this is doing.”
Roehr said the funding will likely come in the next few months, then the county will begin to look for a firm to conduct the study.
Robert von Hasseln, director of community and economic development for the city of Amsterdam, said the initiative plays on Amsterdam’s old reputation as “a city of hills, mills and grills.”
“We’ve been working on the concept for a number of years,” he said. “In the future, this will be a place that not only attracts business and development, but hopefully will spin off restaurants of great diversity and variety that will help populate not only the South Side, but the East End and West End and downtown.”
Roehr sees the incubator as one building or, over time, a complex of buildings, though no specific site has been named. He said it will likely involve shared kitchen space and other production facilities to keep costs low for entrepreneurs.
In the county’s grant application, County Executive Matt Ossenfort cast the initiative as part of the hoped-for revitalization to come with the completion of the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge next year. The bridge landing on the South Side, the likely location for the incubator, has already seen a handful of new restaurants and businesses open in recent years.
“The South Side is experiencing a renaissance,” Ossenfort wrote. “With the improvements to Bridge Street and, especially, the forthcoming completion of the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook, all the dynamics are in place to drive wholesale renewal of this neighborhood.”
Project planners forsee partnerships with local educational institutions such as Fulton-Montgomery Community College, Schenectady County Community College, HFM-BOCES and SUNY Cobleskill, as well as with local farms and other producers.
Roehr said if the feasibility study comes back positive, it’s likely funding for the project could come in the form of a grant from the Empire State Development Corp.
“This is really where the job growth is,” he said. “There is an opportunity here.”
Paul Parillo opened L’Ultimo on Bridge Street, now near the foot of the Overlook, four years ago. His family has been running restaurants in the city since 1973, with places like Parillo’s Armory Grill and La Cucina di Parillo.
He knows the two biggest challenges for new restaurateurs are proper financing and access to high-quality, fresh ingredients, both of which he thinks the incubator could help with.
Amsterdam, he said Tuesday, “has always been kind of a foodie town.” He got involved with the incubator idea early on, and said he’s willing to offer his help in any way as the project moves forward.
“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “It could put this area and city on the map.”
He and others, like Tonko, also see it as a way for Amsterdam to harness its cultural diversity, from Italian and Polish to Puerto Rican and Dominican.
“One of the greatest ways that you can enter into that discovery of diversity, cultural diversity, is through the palate,” Tonko said on Tuesday. “And in our region, where you can have a lot of locally grown produce and seasonings, it’s a great location to showcase your local agricultural community and to express your mosaic of diversity.”