In a vote that required Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl to break a 4-4 tie, City Council granted $35,050 to the Evanston shared-kitchen business Now We’re Cookin’ (NWC). The business, located at 1601 Payne Street in the Dr. Hill Arts District, will return to the City to ask for an additional $60,000 over the next two years as a part of its transition into a “formal food business incubator.”
Currently, NWC operates a shared kitchen that small food businesses can rent. The expansion, according to NWC, has been underway since 2010 and would add to the mentoring and small-business-training aspects of the services offered. Since NWC opened its doors in 2007, four of its 57 clients have opened their own businesses (one in Evanston is New World Pastry), and six others have either moved to bigger space or merged with another business.
NWC, according to a memo it submitted to the City’s Economic Development Committee, plans to use the funds to hire an “incubator manager,” buy new equipment such as a commercial dishwasher and revamp its website. The bulk of the grant, $15,000, will pay the part-time incubator manager, who is expected to work 20 hours per week and oversee incubator activities through the end of 2012, according to the NWC memo.
According to information provided to Council, it is expected that in 2012 the City will fund $30,000 of the incubator manager’s $50,000 salary and $20,000 of that amount in 2014. Now We’re Cookin’ also says it will seek an additional $6,300 for utilities, costs and marketing in 2013; and $4,200 for those purposes in 2014.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, protested the nature of the assistance, saying she thought it was a gift rather than a loan. “I think we should help everyone that we should help,” she said. “But I don’t think we should be giving money away.” The proposal, with its 2013 and 2014 components, extends into the next administration, she added.
The business incubator component of the proposal swayed the vote, according to informal discussions with City officials after the City Council meeting. Aldermen who voted in favor of the grant were Delores Holmes, 5th Ward; Mark Tendam, 6th Ward; Jane Grover, 7th Ward; and Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward. Those joining Ald. Rainey in voting “no” were Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward; Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward; and Don Wilson, 4th Ward. Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, missed the meeting.
When faced with a 4-4 tie vote, Mayor Tisdahl did not hesitate. “I vote yes,” she said. Ald. Rainey asked Grant Farrar, the City’s corporation counsel, if the Mayor could break a tie. “This vote requires a simple majority,” he said, apparently meaning that the Mayor could break the tie.
The formal agreement accompanying the grant requires NWC to report back to the Economic Development Committee regularly with summaries of business activity, including the number of businesses that “graduate” from the incubator and the number of employees those businesses hire.