With its mix of world renowned chefs, food incubators, and adventurous eaters, the District is well known for its thriving food scene, but this wasn’t always the case. We recently sat down with TasteLab founder Ryan Hansan to hear how his food incubator is contributing to food innovation in DC.
Before establishing TasteLab, Ryan operated two different food related businesses. These ventures taught him the ins and outs of running a food business in DC, as well as the permitting, licensing, and logistical realities of working with the DC government.
Eventually, Ryan set out to scale his business, but food incubators didn’t yet exist so he had to build his own commercial kitchen space. As a way to lower costs, he started renting space to other food businesses. Working alongside these other food startups, Ryan realized he could pass along his experience to others, so he launched TasteLab to do just that.
Established in March of 2015 , TasteLab works to provide commercial kitchen space and drive food innovation in the District. Ryan shared that “the first shared kitchen spaces, like Union Kitchen, paved the way for commercial kitchens in this city, so without them we could not exist.” Unlike other models, TasteLab differentiates itself by lowering the barriers to entry with lower price structures and not requiring equity in the businesses operating in its space. Ryan was intentional about these choices and believes “any company can come out and give it a shot.”
What started as a small operation, TasteLab is now home to 98 food companies. The mix of food entrepreneurs includes chocolate makers, food trucks owners, Union Market vendors, spice rub inventors, and more. As a way to help these businesses thrive, Ryan and his team serve as consultants, liaisons, lead generators, and a shoulder to cry on. “We help companies without handholding” Ryan shared, “so that people can control the future of their business on their own terms.”
He shared his advice for food entrepreneurs: “you’ve got to be committed and put every ounce of your energy into your idea because at the end of the day, you are the only person with the ability to make your business succeed.”
Looking ahead for TasteLab:
Since food companies can’t fit into a mold, Ryan shares that he will continue to “build people up and learn as we go.” One way TasteLab is helping its clients is through a marketplace in Union Market. The only shop where 100% of the products are made in DC. For many of these food companies, this marketplace is their retail debut-an important milestone TasteLab is catalyzing. We are excited to see how TasteLab and its food entrepreneurs continue innovating in DC.