CHICAGO — Imagine the Museum of Science and Industry with food as the focus, where visitors can touch, smell and taste the exhibits as they go.
That's the idea behind Foodseum, a free-standing, interactive museum that tech entrepreneur Kyle Joseph is working to open in Chicago next year.
While still in the early stages of fundraising and organizing volunteers, Joseph said he is looking at locations in the Loop and River North, both neighborhoods with the vital foot traffic that the museum needs.
He envisions between four and 10 exhibits on rotation at the Foodseum, on topics ranging from chocolate to edible flowers to food trucks.
"It's really engaging you with history, the story of how it comes together, how it's produced, whether it's cheese or chocolate, and the people who are doing it well and doing it now," he said.
He plans to have an area inside the museum with a fully equipped kitchen that could host food festivals and other culinary events and be a test space for chefs looking to open or expand restaurants.
Some of the proceeds from the nonprofit Foodseum would be donated to food-related charities in Chicago.
The museum is but one of Joseph's pet projects. He is the founder of ShopGab, a digital business management tool for personal shoppers and interior designers. He has worked out of the 1871 startup incubator in the Merchandise Mart since its inception in 2012, and is drawing heavily on his network of contacts there to get the museum off the ground.
Foodseum wouldn't be the first museum dedicated to food. There is the Jell-O Museum in New York, the SPAM Museum in Minnesota, and closer to home, the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wis., among others. But Foodseum would be the first museum of its kind in Chicago.
"There have been programs having to do with food, but there's not one sustained thing, and not one place to go," said Bruce Kraig, a food historian and Roosevelt University professor who is consulting with Joseph on the Foodseum.
"He has a vision for what it should be ... and he is doing his homework," Kraig said.
The momentum is there. The Museum of Food and Drink in New York is in the startup phase, like Foodseum, and has a similar mission to educate and inspire through food. Joseph has reached out to its founders as well as to the esteemed Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans and the Chicago History Museum for guidance and feedback.
"This is the perfect hub for it," said Joseph, 31, a Lincoln Park resident. "There's so much great history in food manufacturing, and now, so many culinary artists and amazing chefs coming out of here."
Joseph isn't one of them. He's an electrical engineer by training. His family moved around when he was young, from Los Angeles to England to Germany, where he attended high school. He moved to Chicago five years ago after graduate school.
All that traveling opened his eyes to good food and the culture of food, past and present.
"I see Chicago as the perfect place for [Foodseum] to exist and thrive," he said.
Though the Foodseum will take a broader focus beyond Chicago, with its food history and its status as arguably the best eating city in America, Joseph has decided on a Chicago-centric subject for the opening exhibit: the hot dog.
Kraig, co-author of the book, "Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America," is helping develop the exhibit, which will explore sausages around the world. It's a takeoff of an exhibit Kraig did last fall for the University of Chicago's John Crerar Library.
Joseph plans to hold the exhibit pop-up style for a few months at an event venue. It would be open to the public for a "cheap ticket," he said, to generate buzz and help fund the museum's opening.