Businesses continue to feel impact after Stony Brook incubator walk-in oven explosion

Eight weeks after an explosion at Stony Brook University’s food business incubator in Calverton, the more than 70 food startups that depend on the shared space continue to feel its impact.

With no firm reopening date for the facility, which launched in 2012 to provide shared kitchen and storage space to support food startups across Long Island, many entrepreneurs have had to scramble to come up with solutions. alternative production plans. Economic experts estimated that the businesses collectively suffered more than $600,000 in economic losses as a result of the incident.

“It will have a catastrophic impact on many businesses there,” said Jimmy Lyons, who opened North Fork Donuts with his wife, Kelly, in Mattituck in 2018 and expanded to a second Bay Shore location in 2020. .

When they started the business, the couple made everything on-site in Mattituck, worked long hours and often arrived at 1 or 2 a.m. to start rising the dough.

“We were running out of donuts at 10 or 11 a.m.,” Mr. Lyons said. “We realized quite quickly that we needed more equipment and space.”

The incubator offered a perfect solution for the fledgling company, which began renting space there about two years ago.

Fortunately, Mr. Lyons said their operation was not directly impacted by the August 10 explosion, as his company’s space is on another side of the building. However, Stony Brook shut down the entire facility as a precaution for cleaning, repairs and safety inspections, leaving Mr. Lyons unable to access his production equipment.

“Initially, we held on,” he said, adding that he had been told the explosion would lead to a “brief” shutdown of the facility. Both North Fork Donuts locations closed when Mr Lyons took to social media to share updates on the reopening and ongoing delays. Mr Lyons, who said he continued to pay his staff of around 30 during the disruption, estimates the company suffered losses of around $300,000 between August 10 and September 9, when the two sites of North Fork Donut have reopened through the use of a temporary kitchen. space elsewhere.

The explosion at the incubator occurred in a gas oven, injuring an employee and rendering a large oven unusable. Stony Brook officials noted that the employee made a full recovery.

The explosion also caused extensive damage to building systems, which affected equipment, gas and electrical distribution to adjacent areas, and damaged finishes to walls, floors, ceilings, and furniture.

According to an FAQ on the incubator’s website, a team of professional carpenters, electricians, plumbers and cleaning crews work at the facility daily to resolve critical repair and maintenance issues before it cannot safely reopen. Officials said each device is inspected, calibrated and tested to ensure it can operate safely and the building’s fire alarm will also need to be inspected before it can reopen.

In a statement, Lawrence Zacarese, vice president of enterprise risk management and director of security at Stony Brook University, said that “a plan [is] in place for a partial reopening of the building by the end [September] once security checks and inspections have been completed. The FAQ notes, however, that new walk-in ovens could arrive as late as mid-November.

Zacarese also said the university is consulting with the Long Island Food Council and Suffolk County to identify other locations for businesses, including the East End Food Institute.

“We take the impact of this temporary shutdown on the incubator community seriously, and repairs, upgrades and improvements are underway to get the incubator back into service safely and as quickly as possible,” said said Mr. Zacarese.

To help businesses stay afloat during this time of uncertainty, a GoFundMe account was set up by the Suffolk County Alliance of Chambers to help offset their economic losses.

“Many growers invest their dreams and even life savings in their businesses,” the fundraising page says, noting that more than three-quarters of businesses housed at the incubator are women or minority-owned.

Many area businesses are also local to the North Fork, including Satur Farms, which uses the facility to produce a range of organic dressings to accompany their green salads, and Peconic Escargot, which uses the kitchen space to process and package their snails. .

The GoFundMe campaign has generated about $3,645 in donations so far, and its organizers said they are asking for help primarily from the private and corporate sectors and philanthropists.

In the meantime, many growers have had to look for other options.

Stephanie Knorzer, owner of The Cookie Shop at Centereach, said she doesn’t know how long her business will remain closed. But she knows it won’t reopen this year.

With no details from Stony Brook on when the incubator would reopen, Ms Knorzer and her husband, Mike, made the decision to build a kitchen in their store.

“It’s very difficult to find a good architect to fit out an entire kitchen in a small 1,000 square foot retail store,” she said.

While Stony Brook said the incubator could partially reopen, Ms Knorzer said she particularly needed access to the walk-in ovens. “With so many other businesses struggling to get in there, I can imagine it’s going to be a zoo where we’re all trying to book our time and cook stuff,” she said.

An architect she works with told them not to expect to open until February 2023. “We don’t have an endgame in sight as to when it will open, but that’s our plan,” said said Ms. Knorzer.

Mr Lyons said earlier this week that his company is still working out a permanent solution. “The community has been amazing – reaching out, providing kitchen and fridge space,” he said. “It was really cool; it was a stampede.

He pointed out that the timing of the disaster could not have been worse since, particularly in Mattituck, revenue generated during the busy summer month of August helps to financially offset the quiet winter months.

He described Stony Brook’s response as “extremely frustrating”.

“It’s not my hobby – it’s how I feed my family,” he said, though he remains determined to stay open. “We have to grind a little harder this fall to try to make up for this month.”

While some growers don’t plan to return to the Calverton plant, others are still hoping it will be temporary.

Milla Benevides of Milla’s Puffs has rented space in Deer Park to get by, but is eager to return to the incubator to make her pão de queijo, or cheese puffs, a Brazilian staple made from cassava root, d of eggs, milk and cheese. Its products can be found locally in several East End stores.

Estimating she has lost $10,000 so far, Ms Benevides said in an interview on Tuesday that her freezer had been damaged and she had gone two weeks without being able to deliver her puffs to more than 25 locations on Long Island, New York and Connecticut.

Since she doesn’t need to use the ovens, she plans to return to the incubator as soon as it partially reopens, which could be as early as next week.

Despite the difficulties, Ms Benevides remains confident that all will be well and hopes for relief through the GoFundMe.

“I think we have to be positive. I am like the grasshopper,” she said. “I don’t jump back, I don’t jump sideways, I jump forward. We have to understand that everything happens for a reason and that we can change the scenario by showing our positivity.

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