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First building opens on East Baltimore's Food Hub campus

The first building at the Baltimore Food Hub, a planned two-acre campus of food-related businesses, opens Tuesday at a former brownfield site in East Baltimore, offering a space for novice cooks and food entrepreneurs to launch their culinary careers.

Known as the Baltimore Food Enterprise Center, the one-story silver building at 1731 Llewelyn Ave. will be home to two programs designed to grow the workforce for Baltimore’s burgeoning food industry. Over the next few months, the nonprofit Humanim will move its City Seeds and School of Food operations into the teaching kitchen, commercial kitchen and office space at the 7,500-square-foot center, which will serve as an anchor for the $25 million Food Hub campus in Broadway East as its remaining five buildings are renovated and restored.

The 19th-century buildings, once used as water pumping stations, will ultimately incorporate flex manufacturing space, offices and a year-round market when construction wraps up in winter 2018. The site was previously owned by the city and occupied by city agencies including the Department of Transportation and Department of Public Works. The American Communities Trust bought the buildings in 2014, and construction on the Food Enterprise Center started in September 2016.

“I would consider it the anchor project at this point, since it’s the first piece of the Food Hub to get put into place,” said Ed Sabatino, executive director of the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, which partnered with Humanim to raise funds for the $4.2 million facility.

Two large kitchens outfitted with stainless steel equipment are the center’s main features. One will be used as production space for Humanim’s City Seeds program, which provides culinary job training to people with barriers to employment. City Seeds workers operate catering services, prepare wholesale foods and staff in-house cafes for a number of Baltimore hospitals, universities and foundations. With more space at the Food Enterprise Center, the group could more than double its workforce of 21 by the end of next year, according to Cindy Plavier-Truitt, senior vice president and chief business officer at Humanim.

“It’s hard to produce that [much] out of our little kitchen,” she said of the program’s current rental space in Hampden. “We are really actively trying to expand on our catering side, which we’ve seen expand over the past six months, and that’s something that we’re really pushing hard.”

That would mean more jobs for people like Sheba Brown, 42, who worked with City Seeds for about a year before getting hired as a lead cafe assistant at the Walters Art Museum.

Brown, who said she was previously unemployed due to a health issue, credits her supervisor at City Seeds for encouraging her to thrive.

“She looks at somebody and says, ‘You know what? You can do more than what you can do you now.’ I have never had an employer who has done that,” Brown said. “There are not a lot of employers out there that say, ‘This chick or this guy has potential.’ And we need more of that.”

In five years, City Seeds could create as many as 150 jobs through the Food Enterprise Center, Plavier-Truitt said.

Humanim will also expand the School of Food, its business development program for food entrepreneurs, with the center’s teaching kitchen. The program will soon be able to offer cooking classes along with lessons on crafting a mission statement and social media marketing.

Plans are in the works for public cooking classes as well.

The debut of the Baltimore Food Enterprise Center marks the completion of the first phase of construction at the Baltimore Food Hub, said China Boak Terrell, CEO of American Communities Trust, which owns the site and has invested about $3 million in environmental remediation.

“I’m really thrilled that Humanim is our first tenant to open on this campus, and I expect them to bring so much continued vibrancy to this neighborhood,” Boak Terrell said.

Boak Terrell expects construction to begin on the second and final phase of the Food Hub project in early 2018, after her organization identifies a second anchor tenant to join the campus — ideally a city agency or university partner, she said.

Other tenants have signed letters of intent to move into buildings on the campus, Boak Terrell said. She declined to name them but said she expects full occupancy at the site by the spring of 2019.

smeehan@baltsun.com

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