Community development

Wonk Wednesday: Food incubators and business diversity

Wonk Wednesdays are happy hours all about public policy and the ideas that drive it. We choose a big question or theme to spark lively dialog about the issues that impact us most in our local communities. This month’s topic is a community food incubator, which could help diversify Chattanooga’s food and entreprenurial scenes.

Chattanooga’s renaissance has shown the value of incubators and accelerators for entrepreneurs. We’ve seen success in the tech sector, where public and philanthropic dollars have helped grow a thriving ecosystem for innovative companies.

Unfortunately, diversity has not accompanied this rapid growth. This is disappointing. Immigrants are almost twice as likely to start their own businesses than native-born Americans. New small businesses are critical to communities. But other than major metropolitan hubs, the rate of firm creation is steadily declining.

Chattanooga must explore options to reverse that trend. Starting an incubation space for immigrant- and minority-owned food businesses could be the answer. A Chattanooga food incubator would help diversify the list of successful entrepreneurs by opening up the prospect of running a business to a broader range of individuals from more diverse demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Small business incubators already exist in Chattanooga, but they are not focused on some of the upfront costs that are unique to restaurants. A food incubator could provide a smoother path for aspiring restaurateurs and significantly diversify the food economy.

Join us as we discuss the idea of an incubator focused on immigrant- and minority-owned restaurants and what that could mean for the city.


What: Metro Ideas Project will hold a panel discussion with Coming to America: The Story of Us to continue the discussion of what a food incubator would look like in Chattanooga.

When: Wednesday, February 28 at 5:30 p.m.

Where: Metro Ideas Project community space. 1216 E. Main St., Suite 102, Chattanooga, TN 37408

Hors d’oeuvres will be catered by our neighbors at Jinan’s Kitchen. Oddstory beer and wine will be available for those 21 and up.

This event is free and open to the public.



  • Saša Hasanbegović, co-founder of Coming to America: The Story of Us and co-owner of Guesthouse Creative, will moderate the discussion.
  • Victoria Capdavielle, owner of Bread & Butter Artisan Bakers
  • Wahab Najim, owner of Jinan’s Kitchen
  • Marco Perez, vice president of operations at LAUNCH Chattanooga
  • Mike Robinson, chief operating officer at Chattanooga Whiskey
  • Antonia Poland, co-owner of Dipped Fresh

Julia Bursch

Project manager

Julia Bursch runs operations and project management for Metro Ideas Project. She has a background in tech startups, previously working for Bellhops, a nationally recognized and rapidly growing moving startup headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Peter Hagemeyer

Public engagement coordinator

Peter Hagemeyer’s background is in economics and business. He joined our research staff in 2016. He shifted roles to public engagement in 2018 — driving Metro Ideas Project’s community outreach efforts. He is a a Counter Culture Coffee certified barista and directs our coffee program. If your organization should get to know MIP, don’t hesitate to contact him.