You’re invited to the next Catapult Kitchen pop-up! Food-centric entrepreneurs serve up their culinary concepts as a sales avenue and testing ground for recipes at the walk-up window overlooking Lake Mirror. Pop-up patrons can lounge in patio seating backdropped by the deliciously creative “Cultivate” mural by local artist Maegan Carroll while indulging in food prepared by budding local businesses.
Kitchen Director Maggie Leach gave us a tour of their new kitchen and a rundown of what it means to be a culinary creative in the incubator. Leach worked at St. Augustine restaurants Collage, and The Hyppo before coming to Lakeland and working as the business manager for Born & Bread. She joined Catapult as an intern in 2017. Now, the kitchen director, Leach said, “I love to cook, and I love being able to watch these entrepreneurs and to be able to understand how Catapult can support them.” Opened this past June, the spacious digs offer members all the tools and room they need to grow – mixers, a wooden table, all the necessary equipment to prepare a meal, a giant walk-in cooler, and a storage room. Their cookline boasts a large tilt skillet, stockpot burners, four convection ovens, an eight burner range, grill, griddle, and three more standard ovens. A separate allergen-free zone exists with its own set of color-coded equipment, separate hood, oven, stove, and refrigeration to avoid cross-contamination.
Members operating in the space reserve a station with two tables and have access to all the kitchen tools and equipment. Catapult has a sustainable hourly model for its members with a monthly minimum of $150 for 15 hours and the opportunity to pay $10 for each additional hour they need. “The whole reason behind that is, so it grows with them as they grow,” said Leach. She explained that as members are in the infancy of their business, the kitchen gives them space to make mistakes and refine their craft while working alongside other entrepreneurs doing the same. The goal is for them to strike out on their own eventually. And many successful Lakeland businesses have done just that – Honeycomb Bread Bakers, Krazy Kombucha, Born & Bread Bakehouse, CounterCulture Lakeland, A Cow Named Moo – to name a few.
“That’s how we define success as a kitchen is that we have folks in here who are able to leverage all of these resources that are provided to grow their customer base, to refine their concept, to train their staff, to build their team so that they can eventually move out onto their own with a really, really solid foundation,” said the kitchen director. The ideal timeline for a kitchen member to launch out on their own is between six months and three years. In that time, Maggie said, “Our hope is throughout that time frame you have everything that you need to grow your business.” The heart of Catapult, Leach says, isn’t merely to give members a place to cook, but also “that our members feel that they are genuinely supported by us and that we care about them, and that they have additional resources they can use.”
Helping Members & Holiday Boxes
These additional resources take several forms, from referring their members for catering opportunities, providing educational programs to propel their business, guiding them through the permit process, featuring their products in holiday baskets, and through Kitchen Incubator Pop-ups.
Their 2020 holiday boxes, a new format for them this year, support the businesses while providing a special gift of high-quality, locally produced products from current and alumni members. “It’s fun to see how they package their products,” said Leach. “We’re so proud of the makers who are in our space, and we want to support them and celebrate them and do whatever we can to get their name and their business in front of more folks.” Sales for the 2020 holiday boxes close on November 16. Reserve yours at catapultlakeland.com/boxes.
Kitchen Incubator Pop-Ups
Catapult’s Kitchen Incubator Pop-Ups started in late July of this year. “It’s a really cool way for Catapult to invite the community into what we’re doing,” said Leach. Currently, the Catapult Kitchen roster has everything from barbecue, bakers, boba tea, jam, baby food, vegan and vegetarian food, spice blends, dry mixes, and Japanese style waffles to Empanadas and Nicaraguan cuisine. Many of these members participate in frequent pop-ups, with some businesses even joining forces to feed hungry Lakelanders. “The Trifecta,” aka MK Boba, Wafu, and Omusubee pop-up together each month. “It’s always fun to see them collaborate in that way,” said the kitchen director.
The service area is bare – hot and cold-holding and a ticket holder to track orders. “It’s basically a blank canvas for them to use however they want,” said Maggie. “This is a super flexible space to do whatever you need to do – everything from boba tea to Jamaican food, barbecue, empanadas. We’re not tied to one industry or one cuisine – it’s so flexible. We love seeing how entrepreneurs utilize the space.”
“We always encourage folks attending the pop-ups to follow the businesses to stay up to date on what they’re doing and where they’re at next,” she said. “This is a complimentary sales avenue to what they’re already doing. We don’t want our entrepreneurs to hang their hat on that location, but to find sales opportunities. Like a weekly pickup like Vegetation Plant Food does, or a farmers market or online sales – whatever that looks like and then use this space to add, to meet new customers, to grow what they’re doing.” Leach says the Catapult kitchen team is grateful for the community support surrounding the pop-ups. “That’s one of the best things about Lakeland is that people here love to support local and are interested in it.”
We got a behind the scenes look at empanadas in action during one of Vicky G’s pop-ups. Vicky G’s founder, Gabriella Vigoreaux, grew up in Winter Haven. She attended the University of Miami before moving to New York for culinary school. For eight years, Vigoreaux worked in restaurants and food media, returning to Polk County last spring. She started Vicky G’s, offering handcrafted empanadas and other “funky, fresh twists on traditional Latin food.”
Vigoreaux grew up watching the Food Network and described herself as somewhat of a picky eater in high school, observing veganism and vegetarianism. “I felt like living in Winter Haven, the only way to feed myself was if I made the food myself,” she said. This inspired her to cook for others. “When I went to culinary school, I pretty quickly realized I didn’t want to work in a traditional restaurant setting, so I went into recipe development for magazines, which was way more chill, way more my speed. It’s kind of like working in a lab; you’re making the same recipes over and over again and perfecting them,” she said. “What I ultimately want is a brick and mortar location that’s kind of like a modern Latin diner. Something that you would see in Miami but modernizing it in the sense that it’s not just traditional flavors. I like to use a lot of different cuisines from around the world.”
Vicky G’s ridiculously good empanadas are a nod to Vigoreaux’s Puerto Rican heritage. She said, “I grew up eating a lot of empanadas. [...] We almost always were using pre-made empanada disks which you buy in the grocery store, and most restaurants will also use. My homemade dough is something I’m really proud of. It took me almost a year to really figure out how to do it. It’s super flakey – you can just tell that it’s handmade.”
Vigoreaux says Catapult helped her get her business off the ground. “They have it down to a science where they tell you exactly what you need to do to get this form and this form and this license and this permit. It probably would have taken me five years to figure out myself, but Maggie has it very convenient in a binder that she hands to you. She walks you through it. […] Next week is my one year, and I can’t believe I’m at this point,” said Vigoreaux.
There to support her culinary comrade and another pop-up window participant was Gio Favilli, the mind and good taste behind Casita Verde. Favilli was born and raised in Central Florida, her family from Nicaragua. A few years ago, she moved to New York to study at the International Culinary Center. After graduating, she worked in restaurants and bakeries in New York and then in food media, writing recipes for VICE’s food department, Munchies. Like many industries, the coronavirus devastated the restaurant industry. Favilli moved back to Lakeland and started Casita Verde amid the pandemic as a pivot in her career. As a first-generation American, Favilli said, “My parents also made sure we knew where we came from. At least twice a year, every summer, every Christmas break, we spent it in Nicaragua with my family over there.”
“The food over there is just a whole other experience,” she said. Meals consisted of fresh fruits and vegetables, beef, or chicken from her grandparents’ farm in Masaya, Nicaragua. She would watch her grandparents prepare the meal from start to finish, butchering the animal to peeling the vegetables that came from their land. “The whole house smells of this aroma that I will never be able to recreate because they’re cooking over a real fire.” The Casita Verde owner looks to bring these flavorful traditions to Central Florida. “Growing up, the only Nicaraguan food I would eat was my mom’s, so it’s nice for me to cook this food, get help from my mom, call my grandma, get answers from her while I’m figuring out recipes, and introduce Lakeland to a different kind of cuisine.”
Casita Verde translates literally to “little green house.” Favilli was inspired by Frida Kahlo and her abode in Mexico, now a museum, Casa Azul. “It houses all of her art and, there, that’s where she expressed herself not only with food but with art and ideas and writing and poetry, photography. That’s basically what Casita Verde is for me. It’s my platform to express myself through food and art. I don’t express myself well verbally, I usually lean more towards photography and art and food to connect with people, and that’s what Casita Verde is for me,” said Favilli. “It’s a platform not only to show my parents how grateful I am for where I came from and the culture I come from, but it’s also a way for me to be prideful in the craft that I do.”
Casita Verde explores traditional Nicaraguan street foods, like vigoron. “It’s boiled yucca, and it’s topped with pickled slaw and fresh chicharron, which is fried pork skin. That’s a very common street food in Masaya. If you’re walking in the market, you’ll get a plate of vigoron.” Other Casita Verde favorites are tres leches, jarred soups, Bunuelos (yucca and cheese fritters topped with fig leaf syrup), and her handmade traditional Nicaraguan tortillas. “I make my own Nicaraguan tortillas by hand. In Nicaragua, there’s no machine, you do every single tortilla by hand, so they’re a little thicker. It’s time-consuming, but they’re really unique.” The next step might be a Casita Verde food truck, with Favilli’s sights set on eventually having a brick and mortar. “My own little Casita Verde, my own little restaurant.”
Favilli noted the benefit of starting at Catapult. “If I were to be renting a kitchen anywhere else or my own kitchen, I’d be spending thousands a month. At Catapult, we do have to pay, but it’s a way that’s very manageable, and I feel like I’m not struggling to pay it every month. And even if I was struggling to pay it every month, I know for a fact that Maggie and the team behind Maggie would be there to help me figure it out. […] They’re very helpful. Maggie is like a freaking superhero. I don’t know if she sleeps, I don’t even know if she’s human, but she’s constantly working and making shit happen, and I feel so supported.”
See upcoming pop-up vendors and their menu at the calendar on Catapult’s website at catapultlakeland.com/events. Subscribe to their calendar and newsletter to stay in the know on upcoming pop-ups. Support your favorite small culinary businesses by following them online, attending their pop-ups, hiring them to cater events, and spreading the good word about their delicious locally produced food!
502 E Main St, Lakeland
FB: Vicky G’s