Until they rented office space at The Food Loft on Albany Street last month, Alex Singer and Vijay Nathan labored for a year in their Brighton apartment developing NoshOn.it, a website that curates food blog recipes. Dede Wilson, an Amherst cookbook author, rents space at the same South End spot for interns and colleagues building Bakepedia.com, her site of original recipes for bakers. Stephanie Skinner, who publishes Culture, a magazine and budding website about cheese, moved from a Cambridge technology center in August into the loft because she wanted her staff to be with other culinary innovators.
These entrepreneurs are the inaugural tenants of The Food Loft, the first collaborative space in Greater Boston dedicated to food start-ups. The Harvard Common Press developed this work hive to utilize its repertoire of food expertise and underused parts of its 5,000-plus-square-foot loft (rents are $100 to $150 per person on a monthly basis). Bruce Shaw and Adam Salomone, president-publisher and associate publisher, respectively, hope to generate a synergy around food technology under one roof. The space opened officially in September.
The two are not venture capitalists. “This is not about providing money,” says Shaw. “The Food Loft is about exchanging ideas about food, our knowledge, helping these companies and, in turn, asking how they can help us. We are not a landlord. Everyone who comes here has to bring something to the table.”
The Harvard Common Press is a 35-year-old independent business with a library of more than 150 titles and 20,000 recipes. Recent releases include “The Ultimate Panini Press” and “One-Dish Vegan.” The company, which also publishes parenting guides, was an early investor in Yummly.com, a site that tailors searches for food, recipes, and cooking to individual preferences. Launched in 2010, the fast-growing Yummly claims to have 10 million unique monthly visitors. The Harvard Common Press has since invested in two other start-ups.
David Feller, Yummly’s CEO and founder, says The Food Loft is a natural extension of Shaw and Salomone’s talents. “Food is a very broad and large vertical ($2 billion in US), and therefore deserves focus,” he writes in an e-mail. “Also, the food community is relatively tight-knit and collaborative — making a loft idea very intriguing. In a few years, Bruce and Adam have entrenched themselves as some of the most well-connected people in the food space and this [is] a logical next step.”
The Food Loft offers designated office space, rather than the shared open space found in most tech work areas, along with business services and a full kitchen. Skinner describes the space as “funky.” It’s housed in an old building with uneven hardwood floors covered in various woven rugs, shelves packed with cookbooks, and a large display of decorative bric-a-brac. Current tenants aspire to increasing their audience reach, and adding depth and value to their products. Ultimately, at least for one tenant, the goal is to be acquired by another company at a hefty price. Working alongside one another may help.
“We’re in Beta mode now, about to unroll social features,” says Wilson of Bakepedia. (Shaw has published several of her cookbooks.) “Tonight, I met Alex [Singer]. I told him about our next moves and Alex said, ‘That’s what I’m really good at,’ and offered to help. Bam! There you go. A synergetic effect.”
Skinner says she and her staff are already talking to the other tenants about working together. “We have shared sensibilities and shared interests,” she says.
“There’s an energy in this space that propels everyone forward,” adds Singer. “When you’re working in your apartment it’s difficult to separate your work from your life.”
The Food Loft, which plans to cap tenancy at seven to 10 companies, has already been approached by a number of food start-ups. “That interest shows me there is a lot of robustness in Boston’s food space,” Salomone says.
Shaw adds, “We are still a traditional cookbook company. But we’ve learned from our experience with Yummly that our knowledge of food recipes is something we can bring to food tech entrepreneurs and that we could be far more valuable instructors than [venture capitalists] or angel investors.”
The Food Loft www.thefood