When Della Heiman moved to Miami two years ago to start Della Test Kitchen she was met with a rude awakening — opening a restaurant in a new city isn’t quite as easy as it looks.
Instead of packing up and moving away, she made it her mission to help build a community for budding food entrepreneurs to succeed. A year later, with her leadership, The Wynwood Yard was born — and has since become one of the neighborhood’s most popular music and event spaces.
To most people, The Wynwood Yard just seems like a fun space to have a drink or two and bask in Miami’s gorgeous perpetual sunshine. And it certainly is that — but it’s so much more, Heiman explained.
The Yard is a culinary incubator that lets food entrepreneurs try out their concepts with a low overhead and test them with customers before investing in a brick-and-mortar building. The idea is also to help these locals connect with and learn from one another as they cook side-by-side.
The lease on the Yard’s outdoor plot of land was originally just 10 months. But with so much success, The Wynwood Yard is now celebrating it’s first year, and is heading on to year number two.
We talked with Heiman to learn about the year past and the year ahead.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
What’s been your biggest success in this last year?
Creating a platform where so many talented people can work together.
It’s really amazing because when we opened it was a collaboration between five businesses. Now there are going to be 17 local entrepreneurs running businesses out of The Wynwood Yard.
Dozens and dozens of local entrepreneurs have brought magic into our space. It’s something I didn’t envision or understand when we were first opening because the idea was very vague.
Our original goal was to start something like a culinary incubator, but what has been a success for us is becoming a launchpad for all different vectors — art, fitness, food, urban gardening, and architecture.
A lot of people might not realize that the mission of The Wynwood Yard is to serve as an incubator for restaurants and other small businesses. How do you explain the idea to someone who happens to stumble upon the space just looking for a beer and some good grub?
A lot of times when people think about an incubator, you think of a tech incubator, you think of a coworking space and of launching new technologies. That is the framework in a lot of cities, but there aren’t a lot of incubation spaces for brick and mortar retail businesses.
For the food and beverage space, the barrier to entry is so high there’s a huge void in the market for entrepreneurs who are very passionate but couldn’t find physical space to launch a business. This incubation space takes costs and spreads them about among multiple businesses.
When launching a business, there’s a lack of access to resources and lack of community knowledge. This is a community space where businesses can lean on each other and share knowledge — something as simple as “who is a good paper good supplier?” Especially when you’re in a new city and don’t know who to trust, starting a business seems daunting. Here you’re part of a community and you can have ten different people giving you referrals on everything from recipe development to sales, marketing, vendors, or helping when equipment breaks down or when you run out of lemons.
Now looking back at one year, what are some ideas that did really well and some that didn’t really work out?
Some businesses … once they came to the Yard they flourish. For example, the owners of MYUMI omakase food truck weren’t very happy at their previous location, but since coming to the Yard they’ve continued to do very well. It’s a good thematic relationship between what they do and our community. [Editor’s note: This paragraph has been updated to clarify MYUMI’s history prior to being at The Wynwood Yard.]
The British Garden is a perfect example of how the incubator model works. You test, iterate, get customer feedback, community support, then transition out to their own standalone space. They’re opening a brick-and-mortar store in 2017 in the neighborhood, and we’re proud to be a part of that story and the restaurant’s entry into Miami.
Another example is Della Test Kitchen. We’re also opening a brick-and-mortar in 2017.
But there were some businesses that didn’t work out — we had a couple of concepts that the Yard wasn’t quite the right fit for them, but are still operating elsewhere in Miami.
Why do you think some ideas didn’t work?
When you’re an entrepreneur, you have to understand how to pivot. We’ve all learned that. We’re asking “what can we throw on the wall, what’s sticking, and what’s not working?” At the Yard, we tried out so many events that fall flat that we thought would do so well and other events we thought weren’t going to do well that exploded.
It’s not fun when you put a lot of work in and no one shows.
I’ve learned so much more about this city and connected with customers to see what is relevant to Miami. … If it’s an idea we love and it didn’t work, we need to flip it and contextualize it for Miami.
One thing we’re proud of is is that we’ve become a venue that supports local music, and elevating local musicians has been so rewarding and beautiful for us. I had no idea that’s the way the space was going to evolve, and now we have live music every night.
What would you say are the top five ingredients for an excellent Miami event?
- Live music
- A passionate and positive team that welcomes the guests
- Good food and drinks
- Weather has a big impact on turnout. We can’t really control that, but it factors into having success.
- It has to have heart. From day one, the Prism Creative Group has helped us launch the space and what we’ve been able to create with them is so local and a celebration of Miami. The heart that goes into it resonates with people. When they come into the venue for events helps them connect because it’s real, that’s woven into the fabric you can feel the community changing, becoming more rich and vibrant. We’re honored to be a part of that.
- And a bonus: It should be free
You also had a Zika scare this year. How did y’all bounce back from that?
I feel very lucky and honored to be part of this community. It’s a very unique tight knit community in Wynwood. I’m lucky to be part of a place so supportive and willing to stick together. We’ve found place in what we’ve all created here in difficult times. We’re all trying to put that behind us now and are excited about all the things happening now.
What’s next for The Wynwood Yard?
Our original lease was 10 months. We’ve extended it now, and our permitting structure allows us to exist for two years. But the Yard will live on either here or elsewhere, there are so many places in Miami excited about this incubation thing.
As far as the next year is concerned, I guess the goals are to create more processes around what we’re doing. There was a lot of experimentation and learning and we’ve kept testing things until we found what worked. But now we’ve built a real management team and we’re trying to standardize what we do more so we can make it more streamlined for everyone, that way we can take the Yard and replicate it elsewhere.
From a community perspective … the fundamental piece is to help our tenants succeed — we’re trying to do what we can to support that, help them develop businesses, grow create great products, have local entrepreneurs and strengthen local businesses.
A lot of people come to the Yard and don’t know our mission, but we really want our people to understand that when you come to the Yard, you’re not just buying drinks, you’re supporting local entrepreneurs and making a tremendous difference in our community.