Bella Cucina opens its doors to entrepreneurs

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Like other grass-roots movements, Atlanta’s local food community has more passion than it has resources. Its pioneers are always looking for land and money to see their projects through.

A local food company has the opposite problem. Bella Cucina, maker of sauces, spreads and other little goodies, has extra land and facilities in need of a community project.

My guess is that it won’t stay that way for long.

“The idea was to put in this sustainable environment,” says Bella Cucina founder Alisa Barry, whose sprawling manufacturing plant includes three acres of open land. “We had this facility that’s bigger than we can use right now, what can we do with it?”

The answer: a community food center. With room for gardens, classes, perhaps even an entrepreneurial enterprise or two, it’s just a matter of time before this East Point facility is bustling with new projects and energy.

Barry had reached out to the volunteer group Crob Mob Atlanta to help her install several garden plots when she was contacted by Donna Toepfer, a local activist, who was looking to start a community kitchen and food-entrepreneur incubator.  The two joined forces.

“I think for me it came from a desire to help people who are interested in starting their own business, but also to foster relationships between someone who wants to bake pies with someone who grows the ingredients locally,” Toepfer says.

The two are working on lining up classes ranging from chef’s demonstrations for home cooking to more advanced courses in starting your own food business. The garden plots constructed last month by Crop Mob are already growing herbs for Bella Cucina products, and there’s space for more plots and a chicken coop. Inside the plant, there’s room for meeting spaces, classes, possibly even offices for emerging entrepreneurs.

“The vision will evolve as we collaborate with the community and they share their ideas of what they want it to be,” Barry says.

To kick things off, this weekend Bella Cucina hosts a “Farm to Kitchen Urban Picnic and Launch Party.” Chef Kevin Gillespie will share grilling tips as he cooks lunch, and meadmaker Mike Lorey will hand out samples and talk about his meadery-in-the-works, Obec Medovina.  Kyla Zaro-Moore from Sustenance Design will talk about year-round gardening. And Barry and Toepfer will offer tours of the kitchen facility and talk about their plans, followed by a screening of the documentary film “GROW!”

The event is 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Bella Cucina’s Kitchen, 1870 Murphy Ave. SW, about a half-block from the Lakewood/Fort McPherson MARTA stop. Tickets, which are $45 and benefit the community project, can be purchased in advance at Brown Paper Tickets.

Image: Donna Toepfer and Alisa Barry show off the new garden at Bella Cucina’s Kitchen in East Point.

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