How does a small business get a spot in Union Market alongside heavy-hitters like Red Apron and Rappahannock Oyster Co? One way: win the annual Launch Pad competition, which took place on Sunday. The project, now in its second year, was created by Union Market, food incubator Mess Hall, and chef Ris Lacoste as a way to find new culinary talents and promote small local businesses.
The five finalists gathered in Union Market’s event space to make their final appearance before the judges after three months of pitching, sampling, and planning. Top toques such as the Inn at Little Washington’s Patrick O’Connell and Aaron Silverman of Rose’s Luxury chose the winner, while members of the media and restaurant industry also voted in a People’s Choice category. Arepa Zone owners Gabriela Febres and Ali Arellano took first place, winning a six-to-12 month lease for a fully-built, quick-serve space in Union Market, as well as other perks that will help to grow their business. The duo currently operate a food truck.
Other finalists included Whisked! baking company, Half Smoke sausages, the fast-casual Italian concept Bene, and Bao Bros Bar, which won the People’s Choice vote for their stuffed bao buns and lively presentation.
Look for Arepa Zone’s Venezuelan fare such as stuffed arepas, cachapas (sweet or savory corn pancakes), and tequeños cheese sticks to begin by August 31.