Calverton Food Business Incubator Cooks Up Creativity

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The founders of PeKANT Tea Company at the Calverton business incubator.

After brewing up a refreshing, one-of-a-kind spicy organic iced tea company, entrepreneurs Michael Circosta and Michael Romano turned to Stony Brook University’s Business Incubator at Calverton for help percolating into the market.

From humble beginnings working the Long Island farmers market circuit in 2017, PeKANT Tea Company — a play on picante, Spanish for spicy — is finalizing a distribution deal that will increase their reach 10-fold this year, making the company one of the latest success stories to come out of the incubator.

“The incubator is really helping us operate in this scale that we’re in,” says Circosta, noting that the lessened start-up costs are priceless. “It allows us to grow and to really experiment.”

PeKANT is one of 38 companies in various stages of growth at the Calverton incubator, one of a handful of industrial-grade kitchens on LI dedicated to nurturing culinary innovators, such as the Amagansett Food Institute in Southampton. Since its founding in 2005, the incubator has grown from 8,400 to 11,000 square feet.

Fresh dishes cooked up in Calverton range from new takes on traditional favorites such as baked clams and quiche to creative ideas like garlic jam and a snail farm that delivers fresh escargot.

“A lot of people that come in don’t understand all it entails … to bring a product to market,” says Yvonne Schultz, a food-industry veteran who’s the incubator’s new building manager. “I just enjoy helping companies getting to the next level.”

The incubator has four certified kitchens and gives start-ups the tools needed to run a business, from getting licensed and insured, to teaching packaging and labeling. It also has storage space for inventor and dedicated rooms for companies in the final phase before graduating. Its leaders are now developing incentives for companies to mature and leave the incubator.

‘“Here’s a kitchen, come use it,’ is how it started,” says Matthew Stadler, director of incubation at SBU. “Now, it’s, ‘how can we deliver what these companies need at these different stages of growth so they can be sustainable companies out on their own?’

For habanero-infused beverage originators PeKANT, concocting the most unique drink since the region first mixed the Long Island Iced Tea certainly helps.