How to Create a Local Food Hub

Tips for creating a local food hub in your community

Gather Your Team

  • Select a community captain (a chef associated with a local restaurant w/authority and a social following).
  • Put together a small team of 5-6 people to work Hub Days, including a leader to execute logistics (40 hours a week) and direct staff to manage deliveries and traffic; seek employees from partner restaurants who are able to stay on payroll / are not currently filed for unemployment.
  • You will need people with skills in logistics, marketing, technology, event planning, financial management, and customer service/hospitality.
  • Reach out to local your Chamber of Commerce, economic development groups to assist in general support.
  • Enable solid communication and the willingness to adapt, as rules and regulations are subject to change.
  • Use a team communication platform like Google Drive or Asana. We use Airtable at Carrboro United for all vendor communications, menu and inventory management, and guest feedback collection.

How The Money Works

  • You will need some initial capital to get a Local Food Hub up and running. A local community business leader may be interested in this role, or you may be able to get a grant. Once the Hub is up and running, the aim is to become self sustaining.
  • You will need a good accountant to keep the books, crucial!
  • Carrboro United pays all vendors directly. 
  • At Carrboro United, we ask each chef to design a meal for 4 that contains some variety / is really a full meal. We recommend a price point of $15-$40 that we then mark up 20% to the guest to cover credit card processing fees and the most basic of operating costs. In truth, it doesn’t come close to covering the costs, so you will need some pro bono coordination help or donations (e.g. refrigerated truck, diesel fuel, tents, etc.) to get started. Many event planners are out of work and would be a good place to start soliciting help.
  • We also have some easy requirements to ensure that vendors have skin in the game. For instance, you could have vendors donate their time by providing a worker for hub days, or require that they are actively and enthusiastically promoting the food hub on social media. The business partnership is only as strong as the players involved.
  • See if your town will donate a site space for Hub Days. You will need a refrigerated truck, try to get that donated.
  • Off-premise catering license and insurance is needed (make sure each restaurant is established and insured on its own so liability is shared appropriately).

Secure A Site

  • Secure a location with a large drive up, large parking lot, circle or space (school, shopping center, etc.). Best if there is one “in” and one “out” so traffic can flow through quickly.
  • Secure a large refrigerator or freezer truck (ex: US Foods, a commissary kitchen, etc.).
  • Supplies: a tent (for rain or shine), walkie-talkies, masks, hand sanitizer, disposable gloves, traffic cones and barriers as needed, tape, sharpies, signage, etc.
  • Contact your county Health Department to set up a time for inspection and to receive guidelines for operation (no cost associated with this).

The Vendors

  • Start by calling your trusted friends in the industry and inviting them to join the hub. Have a simple “how it works” email template prepared with what you require of vendors, as well as details for the menu and drop off on hub days.
  • For our first Hub Day we had 4 vendors. This was mainly due to vendors wanting to wait and see how it worked before committing. By our second Hub Day, we had 11, and just a few weeks in we have over 25 vendors. Growth is always a good thing, so don’t be afraid to start small. 
  • Your guests will make it clear to you that variety of menu options is crucial. Do your best to guide the vendors as customers dictate what they want to see on the menu, and also so they don’t all make something similar.

The Marketing

  • A professional website is a must, with an online ordering platform & payment system (such as Toast) to place meal orders and take payment. 
  • Collect email addresses through your website and set up an email marketing platform like Mailchimp to send out menu updates and keep people informed. 
  • Use all social media platforms, reach out to local media for press coverage. Highlight vendors, the food, the impact made in the community. Share photos and videos of Hub Days, employees, restaurants, farmers, make it fun! Emphasize community building.

Resources:

Carrboro United from Forrest Mason on Vimeo.