News / Halifax

Halifax 'food incubator' helping to grow gluten-free, vegan food businesses

Ryan DesRoches' 900-square-foot kitchen on Cork Street gives four local businesses a place to sprout their products in Halifax.

Omri Haiven, Jamie Lessard, Ryan DesRoches and Heidi Wambolt make Bandha Bars in DesRoches' shared kitchen space on Wednesday.

Jeff Harper/Metro

Omri Haiven, Jamie Lessard, Ryan DesRoches and Heidi Wambolt make Bandha Bars in DesRoches' shared kitchen space on Wednesday.

A “food incubator” in west-end Halifax is helping four homegrown entrepreneurs grow their businesses while keeping their products gluten-free and vegan-friendly.

Ryan DesRoches started renting the 900-square-foot kitchen on Cork Street in June after he could no longer meet the demand for his product - Bandha Bar handmade energy bars - using a commercial kitchen just one day a week.

Ainslie Umlah started producing her Greens of Haligonia sprouts in DesRoches’ new space the same month, and late last year, Chandra Lockhart’s Rawthentic Chocolate and Taylor Widrig’s Mermaid Fare seaweed products moved in.

“Having likeminded entrepreneurs in the same space is inspiring to each other; we feed off each other’s energy,” DesRoches said Wednesday in the office space next to his kitchen.

Each of the four businesses inhabiting DesRoches’ kitchen rents the space for one or two days a week to make their gluten-free and vegan products using only local ingredients.

Bandha Bar owner stacks up sprouts for fellow kitchen partner Greens of Haligonia on Tuesday.

Jeff Harper/Metro

Bandha Bar owner stacks up sprouts for fellow kitchen partner Greens of Haligonia on Tuesday.

“It gives us a higher level of assurance for our customers that the space that we’re using has no wheat and that it’s also free of dairy, and, from a food safety perspective, it’s helpful as well since all our products are plant-based,” he said.

Because the products are plant-based, the space only needs to be provincially inspected for the four companies to wholesale their food. But they’re looking at further expansion, meaning federal and independent testing, so that the products could be sold in national and international chains.

DesRoches currently has his Bandha Bars in 60 stores, and he’s started combining distribution - typically delivery by bicycle - to those retailers for all the products made in the kitchen.

“I think the more he has to offer in this realm of really nutritious, awesome, whole foods, the more we’re just going to feed off each other,” said Lockhart, who’s expanding her gluten, dairy and soy-free chocolate business after seven years at the Seaport Market.

She calls DesRoches a “super high-calibre human being,” and said the space has already helped her score a new retailer.

“We’re all stoked about our businesses,” she said. “I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life, and it’s just really nice to be with people that are thriving and they’re stoked at putting out amazing, local, nutritious food for people.”