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Durham's getting a new incubator -- this time 'round, for food trucks and foodies

One of central Durham's newest business ventures is an interesting portmanteau of two different hot memes in recent years here in the Bull City and the Triangle.

The-cookery-logo In one corner, you have the idea of the incubator, the concept that provides affordable space for start-up companies, mixing in support services, mentoring and access to other help that a new business needs.

In the other corner, you've got Durham's foodie scene, the mix of locavore demand, nearby organic farms and affordable costs that led first to a boom in locally owned restaurants and, in quick succession, food trucks. 

Food trucks in particular have boomed in the Bull City, thanks to looser regulations than in other nearby cities -- though the requirement that a mobile eatery has to be tethered back to a brick-and-mortar commercial kitchen has created at least a bit of a barrier to entry.

Enter into this scene The Cookery, a self-described "culinary business incubator" opening up this spring on West Chapel Hill St. in the building that once housed the Durham Food Co-op.

Come April, The Cookery will be a full-service commercial kitchen space available for rent by the hour, 24 hours a day, with everything that food trucks, caterers or other budding food entrepreneurs will need to make their business go.

Besides four commercial convection ovens, a 30 quart floor mixer, a walk-in cooler and reach-in freezers, The Cookery will offer terminals for cleaning and stocking food trucks and rental lockers.

But The Cookery isn't slated to just be a kitchen for rent. It's planned to be a true business incubator, too, offering design and marketing services and hosting seminars and workshops to help food entrepreneurs get going in their business.

The incubator is the brainchild of Nick Hawthorne-Johnson, who bought the building when the co-op closed, and his wife Rochelle Johnson of Row Design Studios.

“The high cost of starting a food business is what holds most people back. Combining a production facility and business support services under one roof makes launching and growing a food business an attainable goal even for people with limited resources,” said Hawthorne-Johnson in a press reelase.  

The couple was involved in the purchase of the building a couple of years back, though future plans for the business were paused while they took a one-year, 30,000 mile driving trip from Durham to Buenos Aires (a trip well-documented in a book and web site.)

(Hat tip to BCR reader MWB for noticing the construction and sending this one in.)



I saw the new signage for that start to go up. What an awesome idea!

Doug Roach

An absolutely inspired concept. Best of luck to the Johnson's and their clients.

Diane Wright

Great news!!!

Scott Harmon

Go Nick...Go Rochelle...Go Nick...Go Rochelle


Very cool. I love Durham!

Walker Teele

Go Nick! Such a cool and well-timed idea. Bravo!


I believe Asheville has a similar concept that has resulted in many retail food products.


Brilliant idea. But then Nick and Rochelle are brilliant people! Best of luck, guys!


WOW. Incredibly happy about this!!

Stella Smith

Fabulous! I have a small catering business and this is exactly what I need!

Steve Graff

This is absolutely brilliant! My mouth waters at the thoughts of the great food trucks that could come out of this. I'd personally love to see a truck selling hot malasadas, or one selling bhan mi (I probably botched the spelling).

Elizabeth Read

I wish them the best of luck. I hope that they can cooperate with the four county funded Piedmont Food and Ag Processing Center that is opening in Hillsborough in April. Durham Co is one of the partners in the project. You can read more about it in the Herald Sun article here:


Thanks so much for finding out what the activity was all about - what an exciting development for our neighborhood!

Marc R. Meyer

Please note that food trucks and caterers must comply with State food service establishment permitting requirements. In addition to State permits there are local business privilege license and zoning requirements. Call the health department at 560-7800 for food establishment information and the City of Durham at 560-1200 for business license and zoning requirements.

Rob Gillespie

If I remember correctly, the Piedmont Food and Ag Processing Center has a pricing structure that makes it a really poor choice for food trucks.

The center is great for farmers or the like that want to use the kitchen once a month to make jams or even once a week to make baked good or the like. When it comes to a place to use every day for 2 or 3 hours of prep time, though, the billable hours rack up quick, especially in comparison to the $500 a month or so that restaurants charge to be used as a commissary.

Kevin Davis

@Rob, Elizabeth: I am no expert on food truck commissaries, but would also add that with many food trucks getting 10mpg or so at best, a central Durham location may be more affordable to a Durham-based truck than driving to Hillsborough.

John Martin

Does anyone know the contact information for the owners?

Rob Gillespie

Nick Hawthorn also owns Bull City Restoration. His contact info is on their website:


@john: the hyperlink in the post takes you to the website

John Martin

Rob and TSQ75:


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