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February 04, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Real Good Foundation launches its inaugural cohort with three start-ups

Three startups will utilize Real Good Kitchen's facility on Magnolia Avenue and educational and business advisory services from Pathway Lending.

If food is your thing, you should have been at Thursday night’s event where three start-ups were introduced in the Real Good Foundation’s (RGF) inaugural “Food Business Incubator Program.”

Developed to magnify the impact of Real Good Kitchen (RGK), the three-year-old shared commercial kitchen on Magnolia Avenue just outside of the downtown area, the new incubator provides access to commercial kitchen space and entrepreneurial support and resources to underserved food entrepreneurs in the East Knoxville neighborhood as well as the broader community.

RGK and RGF Founder Bailey Foster (pictured in the feature photo with her parents in the foreground) has been on what she said was a seven-year journey since the Knoxville native returned to her hometown after more than 20 years away in New York and San Francisco. In the two cities, she worked in book publishing, retail grocery, consulting, and software development, while eating all the food and exploring food cultures from around the world.

We first reported on Foster’s plans in this October 2018 article where she described her model as La Cocina in San Francisco, but tailored to the Knoxville market. It was at a time when she said “the Knoxville food ecosystem was on the verge” of taking off. It took her a few years longer before Foster opened the shared commercial kitchen in early January of 2021. Now, three years later, RGK has served nearly 100 food entrepreneurs who Foster believes have opened about 10 brick and mortar storefronts.

“As far as we have come, we’ve only gotten started,” she said before introducing the three start-ups who are part of the six-month incubator program. Each will have a mentor and also access to resources through Pathway Learn, an educational and business advisory arm of Nashville-headquartered Pathway Lending. The latter was created in 1999 in Oak Ridge as an economic development agency to increase access to capital for Tennessee businesses and certified as a Community Development Financial Institution by the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2002.

Callaway and Sonneby giving their elevator pitch.

Ahead of the formal program, we had the opportunity to talk with two of the entrepreneurs who have started a business making something that was new to us – compound butter. They are Kelley Callaway, who grew up in Maryville, and Kayla Sonneby, who moved here from Pennsylvania.

Their company, which the two long-time friends started less than two years ago, is named Butter from the Block. For now, it is a part-time gig as both hold full-time jobs, but they are clearly passionate about growing the start-up.

Callaway said they attended a February 2022 open house at RGK and joined the community shortly after that event.

The other members of the inaugural cohort are (1) Hot Birds, founded by two childhood friends who moved to Knoxville five years ago and are now offering their version of Nashville hot chicken.; and (2) Breezy plant-powered soul food.

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