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Hawkers Wharf aims to incubate North Vancouver's aspiring food entrepreneurs

by June 21, 2016 General

What do you get when you mix some industrial kitchen equipment, a few dozen converted shipping containers and an empty waterfront lot on Vancouver’s North Shore?

Chris Jerome is hoping it’s an incubator for success for some aspiring food entrepreneurs.

Hawkers Wharf is the latest project for the former-chef-turned-entrepreneur, who started up the mobile Hawkers Markets in Vancouver a few years ago and later expanded to other cities.

His new project, which is being constructed out of converted shipping containers on Harbourside Drive behind the North Shore Auto Mall, is expected to open sometime this August at the semi-permanent location.

“The idea is to make it an inclusive platform for all food entrepreneurs and really give them somewhere to launch their business,” says Jerome.

Along with meals and groceries, the marketplace will also host live music, outdoor movies, art shows and other events throughout the year, he’s promising.

But what makes the project unique is the number of concepts it borrows from the high-tech start-up culture to help those with more dreams than cash launch their ideas.

Accelerating in the kitchen

Hawkers Wharf

The Hawkers Wharf marketplace is being built out of shipping containers. (Hawkers Wharf)

With the Hawker Wharf’s project, Jerome’s has tried to build one site where someone with a simple concept could make their first product, test it in the marketplace and then scale up and perhaps move on.

“We have a few different programs for different types of food entrepreneurs,” says Jerome. “The goal for us was to create this supportive space.” 

“So some will be operating out of our hawker boxes, which there are 25 of them on site,” he says, referring to the shipping containers he’s already had converted into self-contained kitchens. 

“We also have a co-worker kitchen. We call it an accelerator kitchen,” he says, referring to one of the larger structures on the site that will be shared by smaller-scale operators looking to test the market with their idea.

And then there is room for even smaller-scale entrepreneurs that might be doing what Jerome calls “pop-ups and guest experiences” at the site.

“They might be making food products and then selling their products in our grocery area on weekends.”

August launch planned

Hawkers Wharf

The plan for the marketplace includes a space for live music and outdoor movies. (Hawkers Wharf)

The project builds on others that are attempting to revitalize the once-industrial waterfront of North Vancouver, including the Shipyards Night Market on Fridays in the summer.

It’s also situated right next to the increasing popular Spirit Trail, which is linking up the North Shore waterfront for walkers and bikers.

Jerome got a permit from city council last year and signed a lease with the vacant lot’s owner, developer Concert Properties, which has no plans to build on the lot for at least the next five years.

He’s spent the past year trying to get ready for this summer’s launch, but for now he’s not releasing any details on the businesses that have signed on, preferring to save those details for a social media campaign ahead of the launch later this summer.

“We’ve got a lot of surprises to promote to the city about exciting food ideas that are coming.”

Time to pitch in

Jerome himself is an entrepreneur, but says hus success will depend on making sure those who come to the site are also successful.

“Our success is really built around businesses that we are working with and seeing that they are successful. We really believe we are creating a community asset here.”

“We really felt that the term hawker lent this really neat vibe,” says Jerome, who adds he was inspired by the thriving food markets in Asian cities like Singapore.

And the temporary nature of the shipping container construction could allow it to pop up elsewhere after the end of his lease.

In the meantime, he’s encouraging anyone with a recipe and dream to check out the Hawkers Wharf website and pitch their idea.

“We would probably see that person working inside our accelerator co-working kitchen and maybe scaling up their business and testing out by selling it to people at Hawkers Wharf on the weekends, he says encouragingly.