All About Hudson Kitchen, a Food Incubator in Kearny

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When Jesse McBride started his meal delivery business mademeals almost five years ago, kitchen space was one of the biggest challenges. He went through different commercial kitchens, but there were “always some trade-offs.” One of them, a once-prominent Brooklyn facility called Pilotwork, even shut out of the blue one day, leaving hundreds of operators, Jesse included, scrambling to find new places to cook. After some more trial and error, he is now settled in Hudson Kitchen, a food incubator located in Kearny. “There are a lot of pros. It’s clean and well-maintained. And you learn from other entrepreneurs,” Jesse told Hoboken Girl. Read on to learn more about Hudson Kitchen based in Kearny. 

How It Started

Hudson Kitchen

(Photo credit: @thehudsonkitchen)

Even before the pandemic, the demand for home meal products had been on the rise. Not only were meal deliveries gaining popularity as flexible hours became a common perk at work, gourmet meal kits and small-batch snacks also saw tremendous growth. Djenaba Johnson-Jones, founder Hudson Kitchen, recalled running training events for direct-to-consumer food brands in 2015. “It was standing room only,” she recalled.

Djenaba has a background in digital marketing and got into the food industry by accident. She was laid off from a magazine job in 2014 and had been looking for kitchen space for a conceived fitness business.

Hudson Kitchen

(Photo credit: @thehudsonkitchen)

The options were limited – chefs could either rent out restaurant kitchens during after-hours or sign up with one of the commercial kitchens near North Jersey, which are few and far apart. “I thought, this doesn’t make any sense. So I started talking to other people and realized there was a big need,” Djenaba said.

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In the next few years, Djenaba worked with many food entrepreneurs to grow their brands. Meanwhile, she started looking for a warehouse space to build her own kitchen. After some hard search, she found the current space, an “empty box” in a sprawling industrial park. Djenaba spent nine months working with a kitchen designer and an architect to build the facility to her specification. 

Hudson Kitchen

(Photo credit: @thehudsonkitchen)

“I thought, If I was going to work in this place, what would I need,” Djenaba said. In addition to the core kitchen facilities, Hudson Kitchen also provides a co-working area with a shower, a multi-purpose room for flexible tasks such as packaging and meetings, and dedicated food truck parking.  

The biggest difference, or innovation, from a traditional commercial kitchen is in the fee model. Rather than charging by the hour with a minimum booking requirement, members pay a flat amount and get unlimited access to the facility. “If you want to be here at 2 o’clock in the morning because you just want to get your work done, yeah, you can come in.” There are different membership levels to fit each business owners’ needs: entrepreneur, food truck, and moonlighter. 

A Peek Into The Kitchen

Hudson Kitchen

(Photo credit: @thehudsonkitchen)

Hoboken Girl visited Hudson Kitchen recently. The space is remodeled from an industrial warehouse and is now sleek and stylish. 

At the heart of the facility is the kitchen, which is all sounds and motions. Groups of cooks gather at different workstations, and the atmosphere is more like a coworking space than an assembly line. Kitchen space and appliances are managed efficiently: members reserving set time slots for sections of the kitchen.

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Different teams share the same appliance if they need it at the same time, which allows more flexibility and efficiency. “You might have something on one part of the stove and I might have something on the other part… If you are making cookies at 350, I might pop something else in the oven and we’ll be together,” Djenaba explained. 

A Collaborative Environment

Hudson Kitchen

(Photo credit: @thehudsonkitchen)

Food business owners have told Hoboken Girl that the collaborative environment provided by Hudson Kitchen is helpful. “Having a community of people is really really important, we meet that need,” Djenaba said.

“You can walk up to another business owner and ask questions. Have you experienced this? Where do you get your packaging?” Product collaborations also become easier. The falafels in mademeals’ boxes, for example, are made by Fabalish, another brand working on the same floor.  

The pandemic has spurred growth in the direct-to-consumer food market. With more time many people have turned cooking from a hobby into a serious business. Others have decided to start their own food brands. “People are getting started more than before,” Djenaba observed.

Hudson Kitchen

(Photo credit: @thehudsonkitchen)

“We have businesses here …[that] didn’t exist a year ago and they are doing amazingly well.” To meet the demand, Hudson Kitchen is in the process of relaunching different boot camps and accelerator programs to help new businesses get started. 

For Djenaba, however, running a food(-related) business has also reshaped her own relationship with food, in an unexpected way. When asked about it, she burst out laughing. “You know, that’s weird. I used to cook at home. I don’t cook anymore. I just order from my clients!”

Stay up to date with Hudson Kitchen via Instagram at @thehudsonkitchen.

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Yiwei was born and raised in China. She has lived extensively in Beijing and Hong Kong, before finally settling down in New York. She moved to Hoboken after a few years in Westchester and immediately felt at home here. Two years ago, she left her job at an investment bank to travel the world and explore her interests, and has since then taken on a few freelancing gigs in career coaching, college admission consulting, and writing. When she is not wandering wildly in the streets of Europe, Asia, or Latin America, she can be found sipping an espresso in one of Hoboken's coffee shops or trying out restaurants in Hoboken and Jersey City area.