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Bornstein & Pearl Food Production Center expected to create 150 jobs

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Bornstein & Pearl Food Production Center expected to create 150 jobs
Cutting the ribbon on the new Bornstein & Pearl Food Production Center are Rick Musiol, Citizens Financial Group; Mayor Martin Walsh; Lori Bornstein; Gerri Pearl; and state Senators Linda Dorcena Forry and Sonia Chang-Diaz. (Don West photo) (Photo: Don West)

The Bornstein & Pearl Food Production Center officially opened this week with a festive celebration that included open-air food sampling, facility tours, a speaking program and a 30-scissors ribbon-cutting.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, state Sens. Linda Dorcena Forry and Sonia Chang-Diaz, City Councilor Tito Jackson and representatives of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Housing and Urban Development were among the speakers, along with the private funders and nonprofit leaders who collaborated to bring the project to fruition.

“This is truly a great project,” said Walsh. “We’re expecting to see in the first few years alone 150 jobs on this site. But it’s more than the numbers. It’s helping people bring their dreams to reality. It’s going to change lives. This project tells the story of how we’re growing our economy across our city. We’ve salvaged a spot from the neighborhood’s past and turned it into an economic opportunity for the future.”

Developed by a consortium of nonprofits working in collaboration with the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, the Bornstein & Pearl Food Production Center is expected to create new jobs for community residents and serve as an incubator for new community-based food businesses.

DBEDC led the $15 million redevelopment effort, in partnership with CropCircle Kitchen, to transform the former Pearl Meats manufacturing facility into a 36,000-square-foot multi-tenant, light industrial business center.

The facility includes a large shared-use commercial kitchen plus cold and frozen storage for start-up and growing food businesses managed by CropCircle Kitchen, plus separate food manufacturing spaces for individual businesses ready to graduate into their own dedicated kitchen space. A commissary kitchen will serve the various food preparation needs of food trucks, restaurants, and institutions.

The ribbon-cutting day mood was solidly celebratory, with community leaders expressing unabashed satisfaction and pride in the culmination of a monumental collaborative process.

“Made in Dorchester!” said DBEDC Board President Daryl Wright to applause from the seated crowd.

“Making things reflects a level of knowledge, vision, resources and grit that can’t be described if you haven’t made something,” Wright continued. “Walking by this revitalized facility, a place where we’re producing healthy food, growing local businesses, and creating jobs for local people, lifts me up. We can make things of value in our community. So let’s imagine this label: Made in Dorchester.”

The Bornstein & Pearl facility is part of a comprehensive, $100 million redevelopment of Quincy Street between Blue Hill Avenue and Magnolia street. Adjacent to the center are 129 new and renovated Quincy Heights apartments. The redevelopment project was spearheaded by Dorchester Bay, United Housing Management, Nuestra Comunidad Community Development Corporation, the Quincy Geneva CDC, Project RIGHT, DSNI, CropCircle Kitchen, the City of Boston, along with a collection of 27 public and private funders.

The project was a model of local and diverse hiring. Jeanne DuBois, executive director of Dorchester Bay EDC announced that over 50 percent of the construction workers came from the neighborhood, 60 percent were minorities and 19 percent female. The project’s split of 51 percent union and 49 percent nonunion allowed for more local hiring, she said.

At one time the vacant former meat factory had been considered as a site for housing, but local residents expressed a preference for economic development and jobs. City Councilor Tito Jackson spoke to that in his turn at the podium, as he lauded the wealth building opportunity of local entrepreneurship.

“Affordable housing is critical, but housing is made affordable based on how much you make,” Jackson said. “On this space, we have an opportunity to build strong local businesses that can take us to that next level.”

Before and after the formal program, visitors toured the renovated facility. Some spaces are still empty, while others are already loaded with gleaming new kitchen equipment.

Alex Bourgeois of Alex’s Ugly Sauce greeted visitors in his new 1,400-square-foot production space. Standing near a table laden with jars of hot pepper sauce in progress, he explained that he began producing sauces at CropCircle Kitchen’s smaller Jamaica Plain location three years ago, but had outgrown that space.

“[The new space] really lets us move in a different way,” he said. “We couldn’t have done it without CropCircle, in J.P. and now here. There’s so little commercial food production space in town. Here, the space is ready — all you have to do is buy the equipment.”

Bourgeois also benefits from the “communal” atmosphere of the shared facility, he said, and is able to use temporary seasonal help from the local residents CropCircle Kitchen trains in food production.

Outside, a dozen food producers proudly displayed their wares, offering samples from cookies and honey-sweetened dark chocolate to salsa, pommes frites, chicken, Haitian “pikliz” and Argentinian empanadas. Sgt. Silta and Officer Marrero of the Boston Police Department served Pearl hot dogs and J.P. Lick’s ice cream from the BPD’s “Operation Ice Breaker” mobile food truck.

Roxbury resident Kai Grant offered samples of the Fort Hill Jerk Chicken she and her husband Christopher will be making in the new center’s shared kitchen space. The couple has been testing the market and perfecting their “authentic Jamaican” recipe since 2011 and are thrilled to move into a new space as they prepare to start a takeout business.

“The building of this Pearl facility couldn’t have come at a better time,” Grant said. “We’re able to scale up because of this wonderful kitchen, just a mile away from our home.”

Making a glorious September day even sunnier for Fort Hill Jerk Chicken was the surprise announcement by Paul Grogan of The Boston Foundation that the emerging company has just been awarded a $3,000 working capital grant.

Jen Faigel, who assisted the Pearl facility project early on as an economic development consultant and is now interim executive director of CropCircle Kitchen, credited DBEDC’s DuBois with the courage to overcome the doubts of many potential funders.

Some questioned the idea of reusing the old facility and suggested tearing it down to create housing, Faigel said. “But Jeanne — a crazy visionary — said ‘no, there must be a way, let’s make this happen.’ And we slowly but surely figured out a way to convince a whole lot of you to write checks.”

Faigel said CropCircle Kitchen, formed in 2009, has already helped 100 people start food businesses that employ more than 300 people. The new facility will eventually hold 50 businesses and 150 employees.

“Imagine those businesses populating the empty storefronts of Blue Hill Avenue,” she said. “That’s why we’re here, to create economic opportunity. When you give people a chance, they do amazing things.”

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