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After six years helping chef entrepreneurs launch bakeries, food trucks and restaurants, The Florida Culinary Accelerator @ Immokalee may shut down, leaving 13 chefs to find another kitchen. 

Collier commissioners on June 11 voted to put out an Invitation to Negotiate to entice a buyer to purchase kitchen equipment at market price. The equipment’s depreciated value is appraised at $219,807. Commissioner Bill McDaniel Jr.’s motion also wants the ITN to determine if a buyer would be interested in assuming the lease and operations with current members at Immokalee Airport.  

“This is a catalyst to get them jump-started,” Commissioner Rick LoCastro said. “But when I hear somebody’s been in there for three years paying us … about $2,000 for the space, which is a great deal, … I wouldn’t be looking very hard for a brick-and-mortar place.” 

The accelerator’s budget is paid for by about $40,000 in chef membership fees and a $306,000 Seminole Tribe grant and is funded until Sept. 30, the end of the budget year. It will be up to commissioners to decide its fate. 

The accelerator opened in 2018, offering state-of-the-art equipment, using $3.8 million in state and federal grants, in addition to $112,536 from its former nonprofit operator, Economic Incubators Inc. The county took over in April 2019 after questions about management, results and spending. 

Commissioners agreed it was operating at a loss without the Seminole grant, and something needs to be done.  

Since 2019, 46 businesses were created, 23 graduated and 130 jobs were created. Of those, 33 businesses exceeded the national 24-month threshold needed to certify creation of a business. The 43.4% longevity rate is nearly double the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survival rate of businesses, according to a report by Cormac Giblin, director of the county’s Office of Housing Policy & Economic Development. 

The accelerator also mentored 85 other applicants, assisting with Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and Department of Health applications and business and food-safety requirements, including a county Business Tax Receipt. The program offers an onsite food safety and testing laboratory staffed by the University of Florida IFAS Extension Office.  

“Judy’s Bakery was one of the first members of the accelerator and also its first success story,” Giblin said of Judith Starkweather, who joined in February 2018 and left eight months later to open a Golden Gate bakery. 

Alumni include Hyde N Chic Restaurant, Wholesome Hound pet store, The Food Rock restaurant and food truck and Habaneros catering, which operates a restaurant at the county government complex. Members also launched catering businesses, produce-delivery services, food and sauce manufacturers, coffee and beverage companies and food trucks. 

“We’ve got 13 users and I think we ought to put them on notice that this facility is going to close,” Commissioner Burt Saunders said, adding that they should pick a closing date, such as July 2025. “It’s probably time for us to get out of that business.” 

Commissioners opted to determine a closing date after the county budget is finalized in September. 

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