The coronavirus pandemic spurred at least one new business in recent months, a frozen food manufacturing startup in Baton Rouge.
Focus Foods is the brainchild of local entrepreneur Jeff Landry who teamed up with other local former food truck operators to create a business that sells single-serve meals to schools, health care centers and disaster relief efforts.
Landry previously operated the Taco de Paco truck in Baton Rouge.
Focus Foods was spun out of coronavirus pandemic relief efforts by Baton Rouge-based nonprofit Three O’Clock Project, which provides healthy meals to churches, schools and day care centers. As of May, the organization hit 1 million meals, according to the LinkedIn profile of a contractor involved in the project.
At first, the need was to feed about 2,500 people. It swelled to 60,000 meals a day for a month, he said.
“It grew substantially and very fast,” Landry said. “After the school feeding waivers expired, we transitioned to frozen meals and invested in the equipment to become a manufacturer which can produce a large volume of sealed food trays with nutritional values.”
TDP Group LLC, its legal name incorporated in March, includes co-founders such as Adam York and Thomas Jacobs, of The Big Cheezy, and Neal Ashby, of Pullin’ Pork food truck, and local resident Matthew Wiggins.
“We grew out of the food truck and commissary kitchen on Highland Road and now the commercial kitchen Waitr built,” Landry said about on-site kitchen at Celtic Studios. “Our food trucks are just sitting (at Celtic) now.”
The current site of operations remains as rental space at Celtic Studios, now at 45,000 square feet, compared to 7,500 square feet a few months ago. There are plans for expansion and the group is scoping out new digs.
“Now, in order for us to reach our goals, we’ve got to find a facility that can handle 18-wheeler freezer trucks,” he said.
Organizers were swamped with Hurricane Laura relief efforts and are feeding thousands of residents, including evacuees, to support recovery efforts.
The food service industry has changed dramatically since the coronavirus pandemic began as meals served from buffet lines are avoided to curb the spread of the virus.
“Older cafeteria workers don’t want to be exposed, so schools can use their reimbursement to buy a meal that just needs to be warmed and meets nutritional requirements,” he said.
The company has plans to begin manufacturing frozen meals in Baton Rouge and expects to hire 150 workers by May 2021, records show, with about 20 construction jobs for the $2 million building, for a total of $6 million investment.
TDP Group is seeking economic incentives for the project, including an Industrial Tax Exemption Program property tax abatement up to 80% for a 10-year period, and the quality jobs program, which is a cash rebate to companies up to 6% of annual gross payroll for no more than 10 years in addition to a state sales and use tax rebate on capital expenditures.
The East Baton Rouge Metro Council, the Sheriff's Office and the school board would have to vote in favor of the ITEP tax abatement, or not respond to the incentive request for the economic incentive to be approved by the state.
Note: This story has been updated to clarify the co-founders of the project and the cost of the construction.