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August 14, 2023

Worcester Regional Food Hub expanding to downtown Fitchburg

Photo | Timothy Doyle Worcester Regional Food Hub Director Shon Rainford in the kitchen at the future location of Fitchburg Public Market
Photo | Timothy Doyle The future home of Fitchburg Public Market at 35 Main St.

Following the organization’s success in Worcester, the nonprofit Worcester Regional Food Hub is aiming to open a new facility, Fitchburg Public Market, in October.

The Food Hub helps food startups by providing business training and access to equipment for members. It provides everything but supplies and ingredients, said Director Shon Rainford. The organization also helps local farms and food producers with distribution.

The space at 35 Main St. is nearby Fitchburg State University and the Fitchburg Intermodal Transportation Center. It will feature retail space as well as three commercial kitchens for food startups to use. The space has a large walk-in refrigerator for the organization’s food distribution program.

The retail section will feature a grocery area to carry food from local farms and producers.  Rainford said that the Food Hub is applying to accept EBT payments for groceries.

Entrepreneurs that are part of the Food Hub will offer prepared foods. There will be a sit-down area for patrons and wifi. The Food Hub is working out a relationship with New Hampshire-based Identity Coffee Lab, which is opening a cafe in a separate space at 35 Main St.

Hours of operation for the space are still being worked out, but Rainford said he hopes to be open 80 hours a week but will see what the demand is before setting the hours in stone. The kitchens will be available to members 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Rainford is seeking to hire a manager for the facility.

Rainford saw the potential in Fitchburg’s downtown area when he began bringing his daughters to theater camp at New Players Theater Guild in downtown Fitchburg. He would get coffee and stroll around with his son.

The city has good bones, Rainford said.

Building owner Matt Fournier of Elite Construction Construction & Design of Fitchburg was already working on a shared-kitchen concept for the 35 Main St. space, so it seemed like a good fit.

Rainford worked with MassDevelopment and economic development agency InTown Fitchburg to get the ball rolling. He also credits the City of Fitchburg, the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, and Fitchburg State University for helping with the project.

The organization is getting help from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant, which will help pay the rent for the first year of operation, and a $204,467 Food Security Infrastructure Grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to help with building out utilities for the space and  buy a 20-foot refrigerated box truck for the food-distribution side of the business.

Rainford wants the businesses coming out of the Food Hub to reflect Fitchburg’s diverse community. Food Hub completed its Launching Diverse Food Entrepreneurs program in June and has eight businesses ready to launch at the site.

These include:

  • Royal Halal, offering Afghan fried chicken 
  • Mera’s Cakes, serving up desserts
  • El Friquitin de Jenny, with Puerto Rican street food
  • Sweet and Salted, offering Venezuelan baked goods
  • Candy Lady Confections
  • Jammin’ Juices
  • Evie Cakes
  • An as yet unnamed business offering birria tacos

Rainford hopes some of the businesses his organization helps to cultivate will move out into the local community, helping to contribute to the revitalization of Fitchburg’s downtown.

The Worcester Regional Food Hub operates out of two locations in Worcester, a production facility in the Greendale section of Worcester and a distribution facility. Torganization is close to completing its location in Worcester’s Union Station, which will feature five commercial kitchens for members to use and a small retail presence.

In the spring, the Food Hub opened a temporary rotating pop-up market, called The Market Place on the ground floor of The Glass Tower at 446 Main St. in Worcester. In July, it announced the location would close but that Saturday Mercado would continue on Saturdays outdoors at the location through Sept. 9.

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