Cullen Gilchrist's Journey To Building Successful Food Businesses!

Cullen Gilchrist is the CEO and Founder of Union Kitchen. In this capacity, Cullen provides executive leadership for all aspects of the company’s operations with an emphasis on setting and achieving long-term goals, growth, and profitability. This includes effectively managing a team of 100 employees across multiple locations and states, overseeing an annual operating budget of $30mm, and leading a venture investment fund.

Through Union Kitchen, Cullen has led investments into over 200 food and beverage startups. Cullen also acts as a strategic advisor and sits on numerous boards of national packaged food brands including Snacklins, Compass Coffee, and Caribe Juice

Prior to Union Kitchen, Cullen graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in Economics and Sociology in 2007.  Following an internship in finance, Cullen switched to the food business. First working in restaurants, bars, and cafeterias, Cullen worked as a General Manager and Area Food Safety Manager at Sodexo in Boston.  Upon moving to DC in 2010, Cullen worked as a Manager at Think Food Group and a cook at numerous restaurants in DC. In February 2012, Cullen founded Blind Dog Cafe. Blind Dog Cafe was a pop up cafe that ran successfully until 2016 inside of Darnell’s Bar.  The experience of running a small food business led to understanding the problems that an entrepreneur faces and what some of the solutions might be. This led to the creation of Union Kitchen in December of 2012. 

Union Kitchen was founded with the mission to build successful food businesses. After the experience of running his own startup food business, and working alongside other food entrepreneurs in their shared kitchen, Cullen set out to build a solution for one thing all emerging businesses need - capital. In order for these businesses to make money they needed to get their product in front of paying customers, and the best way to do that was to break into the world of retail with CPG (consumer packaged goods) products, and thus the Accelerator was born. 

From there, Cullen accumulated the information he had gained over his years in the food space and began to build an Accelerator that would support brands from pre-revenue through launch, growth, and national saturation. Cullen believes that owning manufacturing and following a phased approach to growth allows companies to have stronger margins and in turn achieve profitability faster and more consistently than their peers. A successful business is built on a solid foundation, and an entrepreneur has much to learn through each stage of growth, especially in the challenges.  

The Accelerator was built out into four phases: Launch, Product Market Fit, Growth, and Scale. Each of the phases guides the entrepreneur through a major milestone in their journey. 

Phase One Launch: Phase One is building a cohesive concept, executing the technical elements of product launch, and launching into market.

Phase Two: Product Market Fit is learning what consumers want and how to deliver that consistently through scalable systems, team building, and leveraging our ecosystem. 

Phase Three: Growth is expanding a product that has achieved regional product market fit and building the operations to support that.

Phase Four: Scale is achieving national market penetration by outselling the leading competitors

Cullen developed the Union Kitchen Ecosystem to meet three major needs of emerging brands - kitchen, distribution, and retail. These three elements work together seamlessly to provide our Accelerator Members with a comprehensive platform for manufacturing, distributing, and selling their products.

The Kitchen provides Members with access to a fully equipped commercial space where they can produce their products. This gives Members the opportunity to own their own manufacturing to control the quality and consistency of their products, enabling them to develop and refine their recipes to their exact specifications.

Distribution is the next critical element of the Union Kitchen ecosystem. Distribution is designed to help Members saturate the local market by managing all of the logistics and getting the product in front of buyers and in the hands of customers. This system allows Members to build proof of concept for their brand, to show that they have sales and are making a product people want. In 2022, Union Kitchen Distribution over over $2 million worth of Accelerator Member products.

Finally, the Stores component of Union Kitchen provides Members with the opportunity to launch their products into the local market. The stores provide a space for these local entrepreneurs to connect with local customers, to assess product market fit, and ensure they are making things people want. The combination of manufacturing, distribution, and retail allows businesses to achieve product market fit faster and build the foundation for regional and national expansion!