Pilotworks, a coworking space for the food industry, unceremoniously shut its doors on Saturday, separating over 175 small business owners from their goods and equipment.
Multiple Pilotworks members told Gothamist that they found out about the abrupt closure in an email the company sent around Saturday evening, over an hour after staff forced members to leave the Brooklyn facility. Now, those displaced small business owners have until Wednesday to collect their belongings and inventory, without any concrete assurance that the company plans to reimburse them for time they can't use, for their security deposits, and for unpaid distribution invoices.
Pilotworks officially opened kitchen doors in 2016, securing $13 million in series A funding in 2017. The idea was to provide burgeoning small businesses in the food service industry with kitchen spaces and facilities they could rent while they launched their ventures. David Roa—co-founder and CEO of Superlost Coffee—was one such business owner, and used Pilotworks' Brooklyn facility for coldbrew production over the past nine to 10 months. He was startled to receive word from the company at 6:42 on October 13th, announcing that the start-up had run out of money and officially closed its doors at 5 p.m. that day.
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48 hours ago I used my new shared kitchen to bake up more cakes and pies and brownies and treats than ever before and sold out at @chicagoveganmania just 15 min before closing time—feeding literally everyone who came to my table. Less than 24 hours later, I got this email. After only shy of two months settling in to my new space, I was informed that @thepilotworks is shutting down immediately, meaning myself & the hundreds of other small businesses using their kitchens have less than a week to grab all their belongings and vacate before the doors close for good. Sometimes I feel like this life is testing me...trying its hardest to push me past my limits, drain my spirit, and force me to my knees. Things happen over and over that seem impossibly timed or senseless, things that make you sit there with your jaw dropped thinking what the actual fuck. But I can tell you right now, after everything I’ve been through these past four years fighting to run this business ethically & with integrity, I’ll be DAMNED if I give up now 💕 I’m taking the next few days to move my stuff out and figure out what my next steps will be. And in the mean time, I’m sending so much love to all of you for making me feel so happy yesterday that the shock of this didn’t damage my spirit one single bit. Seeing your smiling faces and all your heartfelt posts about my treats yesterday was everything. It meant the absolute world to me ✨ I know I will find a silver lining in this. There just has to be 🖤 #veganbakery #pilotworks #wip
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"There is no easy way to state this, so we will be direct: After failing to raise the necessary capital to continue operations Pilotworks is forced to cease operations effective immediately," the email read, specifying that the closures affected all Pilotworks kitchen locations: In Brooklyn, Newark, Chicago, Providence, and Dallas. Members can pick up their belongings between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. After that, they're SOL.
"We realize the shock of this news and the disruption it causes for your business," the company said. "We wish there was another option. We worked up to the last minute to secure funding, though at this juncture, with insufficient capital and none forthcoming shutting down all operations is our only recourse."
By the time Roa saw the message, staff had already cleared out the communal kitchens housed in the Pfizer building between Bushwick and Bed-Stuy. Although he was not present at the time, members have been talking and coordinating since the closure: Security reportedly interrupted pre-paid kitchen time and escorted unwilling members from the premises, obligating them to abandon their products in the middle of the cooking process.
"People wanted to get stuff out!" Anjali Bhargava—founder of Bija Bhar, which makes Resilience Turmeric Elixir and used a temperature-controlled space in Pilotworks to grind and sift spice powder—told Gothamist. Bhargava wasn't present for the shutdown, either, but has spoken to other members who were. "A lot of people had events and markets on Sunday, and couldn't access their inventory or make their products." That, of course, costs money: For the stock wasted on products entrepreneurs couldn't actually sell; for the orders they're now unable to fulfill; and for kitchen space they purchased but cannot use.
A Pilotworks membership contract, obtained by Gothamist, states that the "Company may terminate this Agreement upon ten (10) days' notice to Member." By all accounts, it would appear members had no notice at all, and are now left to wonder whether or not they'll be reimbursed for any of the rental fees they paid Pilotworks. Roa explained that membership pricing varies based on the package a business selects. In short, members pay for 20 hours per month upfront, on top of a security deposit and various usage fees (for things like storage and refrigeration). Pilotworks tracks the amount of time members spent in facilities and tacked on a prorated fee after they exceeded the 20-hour baseline. Roa says he paid $32 an hour, and has no idea if he'll recoup any returns on unused kitchen time.
Bhargava estimates that she paid Pilotworks between $800 to $1,000 per month, and that she paid $1,072 for October. She also paid Pilotworks to distribute her goods to various co-ops, health food stores, and grocers. Even before the shutdown, she says, Pilotworks had failed to pay her money she is owed for sales distributed by the company: One of the outstanding invoices dates back to February, and she has not been given an answer as to whether or not she'll be seeing the sum Pilotworks owes her again. Members have been notified that they can collect whatever inventory they had earmarked for distribution from a warehouse in Queens.
In a closure announcement posted to its website, Pilotworks invites concerned parties to route their comments and queries to email@example.com. Both Roa and Bhargava, however, maintain that Pilotworks has so far not responded to member emails. Gothamist has also contacted Pilotworks and its recently appointed CEO, Zach Ware, for comment, but at time of publication, we had not heard back on any of those requests. The lack of transparency, according to Roa, ranks high on the list of the shutdown's most frustrating features.
"People wouldn't be as outraged and angry if we heard anything from the leadership," he said. "It was done very sketchily."
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Calling all displaced food producers in Brooklyn! We hear a large kitchen has shut down with no notice to producers. We are here to help!! We are offering discounted rates to new producers. Also, any referring companies that bring new producers that sign on will receive a free shift(s)! Hana Kitchens is also a food incubator with years of experience. We’re here to help small and mid size new and growing businesses. We’re over 12,000 Square Feet with tons of equipment, and ample dry, fridge, and freezer storage. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or email our website: www.hanakitchens.com. We know how disruptive a sudden notice like this can be, and we’re here to help ASAP!! #pilotworks #pilotworksbrooklyn #commercialkitchen #commercialkitchenrental #brooklynfood #brooklynkitchen #foodincubator #foodstartup #brooklynincubator #kitchenrental #kitchenincubator
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The affected business owners have been meeting to strategize and pool resources, and put together a website—SupportIndependentFood.com—to help one another weather the disruption, and get in touch with local kitchens willing to offer space to Pilotworks foodpreneurs. A full list of the displaced companies is below:
718 Heat Factory
A Cake Baked in Brooklyn Aida Snacks
Anke's Fit Bakery
August Catering and Events
Auria's Malaysian Kitchen Ava's Lifeline
Bad Seed Foods
Baked Cheese Haus Bartelby & Sage
Better Almond Butter
Black and Bolyard
Blank Slate Kitchen
Bliss Street Creamery Bonberi
Brooklyn Biscuit Company Brooklyn Quality Eats Brookyn Brewed Sorrel Brrrito Daves
Caked by Phya
Co Ba Cooks
Craft and Savor
Creative Concepts NYC Crown Jewel Beverages Culture Cream Cup-o-Cockles
Dolci Di Livia/Dippin' Rings DOSENYC
Eat Drink Think/The Wasted Baker Egunsifoods LLC Elemental Catering
Eye of the Tiger
Farm to People
Fresh Taste Incorporated Genuine Foods
Get Fed NYC
Grab 'Em Snacks Grandpa's Garden LLC Greening's Fine Foods Grillfire Gourmet
Healthy Food Cater Hediger Habit LLC
Hog in Black
Hot Spoon Preserves Hungry Island Foods/ Bitchin' Butter
I Eat Lao Food
Jars of Delight
Jillicious Food and Events Jon Good Chocolates Julia Mae's Southern Bakery
La Dulce Baker
Leave it 2 Leva
Lemontree Foods Inc Lickety Split Banana Pops Lifted Cold Brew LilCoquito
Little Cloud Bake Shop Mac and Son
Mean Street Kitchen
Mi Casa Foods
Mrs. and Mr. Bakery
Nikkiikkin Sugar Studio Nolita Natural
Nomad Trading Co
Oak and Honey
Only Hors D'Oeuvres Ventus Trading Corp (DBA Ludwig C)
Oven the Rainbow
Providore Kitchen/ Pastel NY
Real Good Dairy
Red Velvet NYC
Relax & Eat LLC
Robin Blue Hospitality Group, LLC
RubyLu Confections Salad Pangea Catering Salted Baked Goods Sanzo
Scoops in Cahoots
Senor Lechuga Hot Sauce Shaquanda Will Feed You SImple But Honest
Sweet Root Foods
Swig & Swallow
The Key Patisserie
The Meringue Bakeshop The Old Fashioned Baking Co
Tiny Home Creamery
Unicorn Hummus Vagabond Espresso Veggie Grub
What We Eat
Wild Flour NYC Williamsburg Meals WOLDY | KUSINA Wooly's
Yoshie's Organic Cake Zesty Z