This piece is part of our 21 Local Innovators To Watch roundup in the August 2022 print issue of District Fray. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Goldberg runs Mess Hall, a kitchen space dubbed “food incubator” in Edgewood, where hundreds of D.C. businesses have started.
On starting a food business
Food businesses are particularly hard to run. They’re super intensive, margins are thin, it’s hard to find help. You’re normally serving people during times you want to be with friends, family and loved ones. So, if somebody has a great idea and hasn’t fully considered the different variables including startup costs — and the notion it will take months and sometimes years to turn a profit — we let people know and ask them to reflect before they run out and spend their life savings.
Sometimes they say, “That’s exactly what my significant other has been trying to tell me.” Or, “Yeah, I’ve heard that.” And then some people are stalwart: This is something they’ve always wanted to do. It’s something that they’ve given a lot of thought to, something that they’re fully prepared for. Then the conversation kind of takes off from there.
Underfunding is the number one thing that kills businesses and startups. If they don’t have enough money to push in, and they only have enough money to launch and set up a website and buy enough food for the first three weeks, that’s not going to be enough to get them through. They have to be prepared to weather a loss for the first weeks or months — sometimes years — and be able to survive. The other thing is tenacity — just sheer tenacity, organizational skills and a willingness to overcome. Nothing ever goes as smoothly as we want it to go, but if it were easy, everyone would do it.
I think D.C. is perfect for what we’re doing. I don’t know how many brands we’ve launched, but it’s in the hundreds at this point. We’re keeping the food scene and the District of Columbia interesting, fun, sexy and diverse. We’re creating opportunities for people who don’t necessarily have the ability to overcome the startup barrier. I think this is a great way to see a vibrancy in the streets of D.C. with regard to food and culture. I love the fact that we’re helping connect people with amazing dreams to the general public who want to be their customers and support them.
Do the evolution
You have to be able to evolve and pivot no matter what — especially when there’s wild factors like a pandemic. As soon as Covid-19 hit, we immediately got together with our trusted friends and partners at the Catholic University School of Business, which is right in our backyard. And we had a great relationship with those professors over the last years. We said, “Look, we need your brainpower. Can you come and talk to us?” Charles Darwin says that it’s not the biggest who survives or the fastest who survives — it’s the ones who are adaptable. So, the species who are most adaptable will thrive. I do think there’s a correlation between those who were willing and able to pivot, pivot, pivot.
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