LONG ISLAND CITY — When Sara and Corey Meyer decided to start their own dessert company last spring, the husband-and-wife team from Bayside began hunting for space in Queens to get their operation off the ground.
But instead of getting a storefront, the couple went a different route, setting up shop in the Entrepreneur Space, a food incubator in Long Island City that is celebrating its third year in business this Tuesday.
Run by the Queens Economic Development Corporation, the E-Space offers commercial kitchen and office space to startups for below-market rates, as well as business classes and counseling to help new business owners find their footing.
"We came in, we did a little tour — we got a good feeling right away," Corey Meyer said.
The couple — Corey a former EMT and Sara an audio designer — started Little Bird Chocolates last spring, making goodies like chocolate-dipped animal crackers, chocolate-covered marshmallows and chocolate-covered candied jalapenos — their best seller — out of the E-Space's commercial kitchen at 36-46 37th St.
They sell the treats to shops in Brooklyn and Queens, and make custom orders for weddings and birthday parties. While they started out working just one shift a week at the E-Space, they have since expanded to doing three shifts a week, and have hired three employees to help them fill orders.
"This place has been the reason why we’ve been able to expand the way we have," Corey Meyer said, adding that the E-Space's business counseling services helped them learn the ropes of the industry.
The E-Space works with Mi Kitchen es su Kitchen, a consulting firm run by longtime food industry consultant Kathrine Gregory, who lends her expertise to the businesses that use the space.
"You can get a space to cook a million different places, but here we get the knowledge that we’ve gotten, and the tutelage — Kathrine has become like a mentor to us," Meyer said.
"We wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are now if it wasn’t for the help of the E-Space and the Queens EDC."
Launched in April of 2011 with funding from the city's Economic Development Corporation, the Entrepreneur Space is located in a former union training facility with workstations, offices, classrooms and a 5,500-square-foot professional kitchen with commercial mixers, ovens, walk-in freezers and other equipment.
"There is no other place like ours in the city," said Queens EDC executive director Seth Bornstein.
The idea behind the E-Space was to help prospective culinary companies that might not have the initial expertise or cash flow to get started on their own.
"We knew there was a [large] amount of people who wanted to start food businesses, but didn't know how," he said.
At the E-Space, clients can rent access to the commercial kitchen in eight-hour shifts, for prices below market rate. The kitchen is open 24 hours a day, and an overnight shift costs $165, while a day shift from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. runs $235.
When the site launched in 2011, it had about 40 clients. Now, between 150 and 170 companies work at the E-Space over the course of the year.
Current businesses include YouCake, which specializes in turning photos into edible cakes and cookies, Scandinavian bakery Nordic Breads and Mitchmallows, which turns out specialty marshmallows in flavors like beer-and-pretzel or maple syrup pancake.
Bornstein said Queens' diversity makes the borough a hotbed for emerging food companies, many of them immigrant businesses representing cuisines from all over the world.
"We have a lot of clients who come here and are making food from their home countries," he said.
Though the E-Space has grown in the three years since it opened, the site — which was started with funding from the New York City Economic Development Corporation — is not yet fully financially sustainable.
The E-Space needs to be about 80 percent occupied to be financially self-sufficient; it's currently about 70 percent occupied, Bornstein said.
The incubator is designed to be a stepping stone or starting point for businesses, as clients who do well eventually leave for bigger or more permanent work space. This makes watching clients succeed something of a bittersweet experience, Bornstein said.
"When they leave, they break your heart, but that's what they're supposed to do," he said.
The Entrepreneur Space will host its third anniversary party on Tuesday, Feb. 10 from 6 to 8 p.m. at 36-46 37th St. For more information or to RSVP, visit its website.