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Camille Peeples, hands tucked in huge oven mitts, pulled one baking sheet after another from the Hobart convection oven and stacked them neatly on a nearby rack, not even stopping to sniff the bliss. Bacon slices, lined up straight as marching band members, continued to sizzle their way to crisp on parchment paper liners.
They were bound for crumbling into tiny baggies for transport, destined as a savory crunch atop green bean salad. Peeples was bound for the cutting board and a tub of chicken tenders, snipping tendons on the lot before rolling and baking them in an almond crust.
It was the top of the week and Peeples was elbow deep in prep work for the weekly orders for Feast Specialty Foods, her meal order/delivery business newly settled in Jackson’s Midtown neighborhood. Susie Marshall and Marlon Wells tended to pasta, tomatoes, chopped herbs and more alongside her in the spacious commercial kitchen.
Feast is the third culinary enterprise to find a spot in The Hatch on Keener Avenue, one of two creative economy incubators (The Hangar is the other) in Jackson’s Midtown district. Midtown, long a mix of residential, industrial, business and creative enterprises, is a pilot site for the creative economy.
Peeples’ Feast was suddenly kitchenless after the Jackson Enterprise Center’s building, its home for a year and a half, was sold and tenants had to vacate last February. She and husband Rob, operations manager at the Mississippi Museum of Art, searched Metro Jackson, including Madison, Ridgeland, Pearl and Flowood, for a new location. Commercial kitchen space doesn’t just hang around, idle, empty and move-in ready, she said. What’s out there is often a closed restaurant with a cannibalized kitchen, (unnecessary, for her) curb appeal and big rent. They wanted a landlord interested in partnering.
“We were more concerned about being able to convey our equipment to a business when we, at whatever time, decide to retire from this,” Peeples said. “Rob and I are both approaching 57, and we just don’t see ourselves doing this forever and ever.
“We really wanted to be able to leave the entire kitchen contents to an organization that could benefit from it.”
The incubators host early entrepreneurs searching for space and aiming for growth.
“We also look for tenants who are interested in being part of the collective creative economy in Midtown,” said Kristi Hendrix, Midtown Partners executive director.
“A perfect fit,” both described it.
“Divine intervention,” Peeples said, too, about landing at The Hatch, with a more convenient location and a raw space she could design for what worked best. Midtown Partners built it out, and Peeples conveyed her equipment to them, once it was installed.
“I have always wanted to feel like I’m giving back, in some way, in the community.”
Dinner’s done, to a point
Peeples turned her cooking hobby into a business, first in Houston, Texas, where they lived before moving to Jackson in 2013.
“That’s how I show love, is through my food,” she said.
Then called Fare Accompli (a play on the French fait accompli, a done deal), it started as a partnership that became a solo venture after a year. The “done dinner” idea prepares from-scratch Dinner-for-Two, up to a point. In-home diners take it from there.
She brought the same model to Jackson in Feast. Online subscribers of feast-sf.com review a weekly menu of fresh (dinner-for-two, a salad entree with a protein, a quart of soup) and frozen options. If they like, they order for delivery in Metro Jackson the following week. With simple directions, most fresh dinners are ready in less than 25 minutes. Salad ingredients and dressing — each packaged separately to maintain integrity and buy shelf time — just combine for a toss at the last minute.
“I have a real attention to detail,” Peeples said. “Packaging the food is something that comes naturally for me. I love to keep things neat and tidy. So, breaking everything down into little bags and sealing them just …,” she paused, then laughed, “appeals to my obsessive compulsive disorder.”
With proteins, her cooking stops shy of done, so that it’s finished rather than reheated, dinner-in-the-oven aroma and all, in the diner’s home kitchen.
A self-taught cook, she credited the intuitive, three-meals-a-day talents of her mother, Thelma Spreen, with early inspiration and instruction.
“She didn’t follow recipes, just threw stuff in and it was always great. So, I learned to experiment with food. … You find what works together and flavors that you like to combine.
“Everything from salad dressings to sauces to go with your proteins, it all just comes together. It’s a party in your mouth.”
To the table
News reports fret over the death of home cooking, and meal delivery options and other work-arounds are on the rise. Peeples sees a growing demand for this sort of time-saver, which also hits notes of local sourcing when possible, natural flavorings and the absence of additives and preservatives.
“I think that people don’t necessarily want to go out to eat every night of the week. One, I don’t think it’s healthy. Two, I just think people enjoy dining at home,” she said.
With delivery on Wednesday and Thursday, “it gives you the opportunity to still go and enjoy your weekend out on the town.”
A book she read about the Mediterranean diet fed into her Feast model.
“The diet is not so much the food that you eat but it’s the lifestyle that bringing people together around the table creates,” Peeples said.
She hopes her diners will relax with a companion, put dinner in the oven to finish, enjoy the aroma it brings, open a bottle of wine and break bread with friends.
“I feel like this is an opportunity for you to just stop and exhale and enjoy the time around the table,” that has been lost to hectic schedules and drive-through/dash off habits. Peeples dons a crisp white chef’s jacket and executive chef title, but her vintage logo, with its polka dot apron, signals a homey ethos at work.
“I really believe it feeds our soul to share a meal with friends and family. That’s how I grew up,” she said.
In a broader sense, the community exchange feeds the neighborhood’s well-being, too. Incubator tenants also have access to the resources of ELSEWorks, entrepreneurial program of Millsaps College’s Else School of Management, which co-manages and recruits for the Hatch and the Hangar. The first culinary business in The Hatch was Cold Drip Coffee and Tea Company, in 2015. Lauren Rhoades’ Sweet & Sauer fermented foods startup, which had previously sublet kitchen space from Peeples at the E-Center, moved in this past spring. Feast became their neighbor in June.
Feast’s fit into the Hatch gave it critical mass, offered valuable experience to ELSEWorks students and, as an existing business moving in, validated efforts at recruiting and building businesses that were at earlier seed stages, said David Culpepper, chair of the ELSEWorks team that also includes Phil Hardwick, Penny Prenshaw, Ray Grubbs and Blakely Fender.
More food-related entrepreneurial interest in the Hatch has cooked up in recent months, Hendrix said.
It’s one more ingredient for Midtown’s creative economy.