New use for old fast food site? West Sac ponders ‘incubator’ for restaurants


By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

West Sacramento leaders are working on a project that would turn an old fast food restaurant somewhere in town into an “incubator” for restaurant startups.

Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento (News-Ledger file photo)

“Our idea was to convert an old fast-food joint into a demonstration of how healthy, locally grown food could be produced and sold,” Mayor Christopher Cabaldon told the News-Ledger. “We can provide opportunities for aspiring restaurateurs who want to produce healthy food, but do it without quitting their jobs and taking out a huge loan. Here’s the hardest part – if you want to start a restaurant – and we certainly need more restaurants in West Sacramento – unless you’re a chain, it’s very difficult.”

You can’t even start out cooking commercially from your home kitchen, he added. You’d need a commercial, government-approved facility. And it’s expensive to take on that kind of overhead for a risky new restaurant.

“Most consumers expect you to be there most nights a week, so you’re really talking about quitting your job and taking an enormous leap.”

So West Sacramento envisions a “Farm to Fast Food” facility that would support several new ventures at a time. The yet-unchosen site would also be a place for local farmers to sell their produce to the public.

“The (restaurants) would have different themes and different operators throughout the week,” said Cabaldon.

The city’s goal is to encourage “reasonably healthy” fast food alternatives in West Sacramento.

“Fast food exists and it thrives because it meets the needs of a lot of households, who don’t necessarily have time to cook a family meal.”

The goal would be for these new restaurants to try to be successful at the shared “incubator” facility before taking the next step, graduating and moving on to become self-supporting somewhere else.

As a mini-farmers market, he said, the new facility would also support small-scale, urban farming such as that being done by Dan Gannon and his Humble Roots farm in West Sacramento.

“The Eatery (restaurant) builds its menu partly on what’s available from Humble Roots, and Humble Roots knows it has that market.”

The city government just entered their “Farm to Fast Food” proposal into a contest sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies of New York (that city’s mayor is Michael Bloomberg). The competition offered a $5 million prize and four $1 million prizes to cities with innovative ideas for tackling national issues.

West Sacramento recently learned it wasn’t among the winners in that contest.

“No cities our size were among the winners,” said Cabaldon. But he still believes in the project.

“There are abandoned or failing fast-food drive-throughs on commercial strips all over the country. This idea was generated by a creative visioning session from a lot of local stakeholders, including farmers and restaurateurs.”

These stakeholders are scheduled to meet again within the next couple of months, and keep working on trying to make “Farm to Fast Food” a reality in West Sacramento, said the mayor.

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