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R.I.’s leading food business incubator is launching a marketplace for food entrepreneurs

The Downtown Makers Marketplace in Providence will be operated by Hope & Main, a food and beverage business incubator program

Located at 100 Westminster St., the DowntownLane Turner/Globe Staff

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What do you think it takes to get a food or beverage product onto the shelves of a big grocery store? It’s a grueling process that is incredibly competitive (and expensive) — even for the most talented entrepreneurs who have access to capital.

But getting a product in front of a consumer earlier may be part of the trick. And soon, a little cafe and market might provide just the opportunity for food entrepreneurs in Providence.

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Hope & Main, a food and beverage business incubator program in Warren, announced its plans to soon open the Downtown Makers Marketplace at 100 Westminster St. in Providence in early January 2023.

What diners can expect: The eatery will serve breakfast and lunch, locally sourced made-to-order items, grab-and-go hot and cold foods, and will offer corporate catering and products by entrepreneurs in the nonprofit’s incubator program.

A coffee, tea, and craft-beverage bar will be anchored by Schasteâ and chef Benny Barber will run the back of the house.

The marketplace will located where Nick’s on Westminster used to be prior to closing in 2020.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Here’s what’s special about it: Food entrepreneurs will test-drive new ideas that are representative of their concepts and food heritage, which Hope & Main founder and president Lisa Raiola said currently ranges from foods from in places like Ethiopia and Trinidad to Israel, Mexico, Cambodia, and the Philippines.

Raiola said the marketplace will give startups access to markets and consumers “they could not otherwise reach.” In the nine years since it was founded, Hope & Main has helped launch and scale 450 food and beverage startups. About 40 percent of those are owned by entrepreneurs of color.

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Location, location, location: The marketplace will be on the ground floor of an office tower building owned by former Providence Mayor Joe Paolino. It previously housed Brewed Awakenings (the local coffee chain closed this location in December 2021) and the now-shuttered Nick’s on Westminster by chef Derek Wagner (his other location, Nick’s on Broadway, is still open).

Hope & Main founder and president Lisa Raiola.lew abramson

Inside the office tower, right across from where the marketplace will be is an entrance to the Superman building, which is about to be redeveloped into nearly 285 apartments. The marketplace, Paolino said, is part of the “campus” he’s building to appeal to the building’s future residents and retain office workers.

Finances: The Papitto Opportunity Connection provided “a substantial grant” for the marketplace, according to spokesman Gregg Perry, but he declined to disclose specifics. Paolino said his company is also helping subsidize the project.

The office tower building at 100 Westminster St. in Providence is owned by former Mayor Joe Paolino.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

One more thing: Over the last two years, Hope & Main has faced increased demand for kitchen time from aspiring entrepreneurs. Many of them are leaving traditional food service jobs in order to become their own bosses. About half of these requests are coming from the greater Providence area and largely from members of historically underserved communities, Raiola said. She’s in negotiations to open a facility in the West End of the city to fully equip three new shared-use kitchens and build out spaces for Hope & Main graduates.

If you have suggestions or need a recommendation, shoot me an email at Alexa.Gagosz@globe.com.

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Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.