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Self-Described ‘Willy Wonka’ Buys Shuttered Brooklyn Food Incubator Pilotworks

The new incubator will be called Nursery and is backed by a food research lab in Boston

Ube Kitchen
Ube Kitchen used to operate from the Pilotworks space
Ube Kitchen/Facebook

A new food and beverage incubator has taken over the Brooklyn space once operated by Pilotworks — the company that abruptly closed about two months ago, cutting nearly 200 local food vendors from their production kitchens.

The new incubator called Nursery is backed by Chew — a Boston-based food research lab founded by entrepreneur Adam Melonas, an Australian chef who sees himself as a modern-day Willy Wonka. Since 2013, Melonas has focused on making highly processed food like frozen dinners nutritional at his lab, where chefs and food scientists have created over 1,000 new foods, according to a report in the Boston Globe.

The new Brooklyn incubator at 630 Flushing Ave. will open later this week “pending final permit approvals,” a spokesperson says. All vendors who previously operated in the space have been invited back, the spokesperson says.

Melonas, who worked in several fine dining restaurants around the world, says his team is “working closely to rebuild our tenants’ trust and good faith” and is working toward building a “vibrant and dynamic community.”

Nick Shippers of Ube Kitchen — who used to operate from the Pilotworks space — tells Eater there is “a lot of interest” among vendors, most of whom first met with the new operator Monday.

Melonas has plans to open a similar incubator in Cambridge, he said in a June profile in the Globe. Chew, open since 2013, is self-funded by Melonas and makes money by inventing new foods, as well as by helping big corporate brands make their junk foods less chemical-filled. The entrepreneur talks a big game; in the profile, he claims: “I’m arrogant enough to know that if I go into the kitchen today and I tell everyone that we’re going to put the grain amaranth into everything, I can guarantee that in 12 to 18 months it will be a global trend.”

Before opening his Willy Wonka-like factory, Melonas tried to sell chemical-free candy as a co-founder of Unreal Candy, a company touted by celebs like Tom Brady, Gisele Bundchen, and Matt Damon for “reinventing” candy as healthy. Melonas left the company in 2013 when its products were pulled off the shelves.

The revival of the incubator could be a big move for dozens of local food businesses. Pilotworks’ mysterious closure in October cut nearly 200 local food vendors from their products, leaving them with no kitchen to produce goods during the busy holiday season. Members were given little to no information when the company shuttered, except that Pilotworks didn’t have enough money to continue operating. Several vendors reported being owed thousands of dollars.

Pilotworks opened its Brooklyn outpost in 2016 and was even backed by NYC’s Economic Development Corp., with the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President investing $1.3 million in the build-out of the facility, then called Brooklyn FoodWorks. The NYC EDC is apparently backing this reboot as well, with president and CEO James Patchett saying he was thrilled to have “helped facilitate” the reopening.

Eater has reached out to the EDC for more information.

Correction: Unreal Candy pulled its products off the shelves in 2013, but never formally closed the business. Products eventually returned to stores after Melonas left.