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Andrea and Tim Monson

Andrea and Tim Monson, owners of Monsoon Roastery, are two of the original partners who brought the Urban Food Brood to life.

Almost a decade ago, Tim and Andrea Monson started a small business roasting and selling coffee, which grew to the point where they opened a retail and operating space on Albany Street in Springfield in 2019.

Not long after, the owners of Monsoon Roastery began talking to the owners of two other small businesses — Nosh, a downtown Springfield eatery, and Urban Artisan Farm, which specializes in hydroponic food production — about a concept that has now become one of the city’s most unique food-centric success stories.

“It started after COVID when small businesses were struggling to survive,” Andrea said. “We already did business with Nosh — we would carry her food products, and then they would carry our coffee. So that kind of social capital started very early on. We actually did that with a lot of small businesses. So we started to think … what if we were a small business corporation — a bunch of us kind of fighting together?”

That’s how the Monsons, Nosh owner Teri Skinner, and Urban Artisan Farm owner Jack Wysocki launched their concept, envisioning a place where small businesses could support each other in a shared space with a common kitchen and other amenities, and people could come stop by for lunch or a coffee and bring home some fresh produce, meat, or other items.

“We started to think … what if we were a small business corporation — a bunch of us kind of fighting together?”

“It took us three years to get financing and to get organized,” Monson explained. “This was an office building. So we had to transform it into food-manufacturing collaborative, which cost a lot of money. In the middle of COVID, there were a lot of shortages, a lot of delays. But we kept fighting for this dream and investing our own funds and sacrificing a lot of time and a lot of sweat equity, and it finally came together in July of last year.”

Skinner recalls collaborating with the other founders on ideas, looking into grant funding to turn the building on Albany Street — a stretch of road known as Gasoline Alley, due to the giant fuel tanks that line it — into a collaborative workspace that eventually became known as the Urban Food Brood.

“The three of us sort of came together, wanting to expand our businesses,” she said, adding that the project ran into a lot of infrastructure and renovation issues that weren’t expected, and cost more money than expected. “But now it’s flourishing,” she added.

Nosh is actually the latest — and largest — operation to move into the space, which, along with Monsoon and Urban Artisan Farm, also includes Corsello Butcheria, Happy Man Freeze Dried, Wicked Whisk, and Rocka Docka Foods.

Vincent Corsello

Vincent Corsello says the Urban Food Brood offers fresh options amid a food desert.

“Happy Man had a certified home kitchen, but he was expanding tremendously. He needed a kitchen, so he ended up taking a room here,” Skinner said. “Wicked Whisk acquired a food truck, but she also needed a commercial kitchen so she could produce her products, as she was growing as well.”

Vincent Corsello, who runs Corsello Bucheria, an Easthampton business that has expanded into the Urban Food Brood, said he took part in a pig roast on Albany Street a few years ago and was struck by the uniqueness of the setup.

“This place is magic. There’s such a vibe here,” he remembered thinking. “So I started coming — I don’t know to what end, exactly, but they were open to a collaboration. They got a grant to do a community kitchen, and I said, ‘can I be a part of it?’ And they said ‘yes.’ And then we went from there.”


Creating a Vibe

The building, with its community spirit and that creative vibe — the walls are lined with works from local artists, which are displayed on a rotating basis and available for sale — is a stark contrast to its surroundings, Corsello said.

“It’s in the middle of a brownfield, essentially. They call it Gasoline Alley for a reason; we’re surrounded by a million gallons of gasoline.

“I have a big window, and I did a brick facade outside the bakery so you can look through the window and see the bakers cooking.”

“But it’s easy to get to, and there’s plenty of parking, so it’s a good location,” he was quick to add. “And the vibe really attracted me to this this campus; it’s like a modern-day boys’ club, only it includes all different types of people.”

Indeed, Monson noted that she’s seen people of different backgrounds, experiences, and even religious persuasions enjoying the welcoming vibe of the space together.

“We have students, we have professionals, we have the police, we have the firefighters, we have EMTs, social workers, teachers … we have so many different people that come in here to enjoy the food or the coffee or the environment. Everybody’s here.

“The one thing I hear over and over again — unfortunately — is, ‘wow, I can’t believe this is in Springfield,’” she went on. “I both love and hate that. As a Springfield resident, a Springfield business owner, someone who grew up in Springfield, I feel like Springfield always gets the short end of the stick. There’s a lot of negative perception about Springfield. And we’re trying to disprove that. We’re saying, ‘hey, look, we built this thing, and people are coming.’

“I’ve heard, ‘this feels like I stepped into Northampton,’ which is, I guess, a compliment. But we’re not Northampton; we’re Springfield.”

Teri Skinner

Teri Skinner, seen here at her downtown Nosh location, is the most recent of the original Urban Food Brood partners to move to Gasoline Alley; she will continue to operate at both sites.

Corsello said the uniqueness extends to the business model, with the various tenants sharing one register, and the businesses sharing their products.

“So when I make sandwiches, I use Teri’s bread, and I use Jack’s vegetables. We use each other’s products to create. So you not only have an opportunity to get something for yourself, but if you like what you taste, you can buy any of those components here at the market. Plus, a lot of Springfield is kind of a food desert, and we’re small businesses offering locally created food products.”

He said patrons appreciate being able to eat or drink something on site, then bring something home to prepare.

“Anybody can come in here and get a cup of coffee, they can shop, they can get some vegetables, they can get some meat, they can get something freeze-dried. For us, it’s a model that doesn’t come without its challenges, and we’re still figuring some of that stuff out, but it’s very unique. People like a one-stop shop.”

Skinner, whose downtown Nosh location has long had an artistic, funky décor, appreciates the way the Urban Food Brood prioritizes art as well.

“People come here, and they’ll pick up some sausage and go, ‘you know, let me get a kombucha, let me get some mushrooms, let me get some spinach.’ And you go home, and you have all of this really good product that’s manufactured here in Springfield.”

“We have lots of artists that come in and display their work on a monthly basis, and then people can purchase their artwork. They’re in a rotation; if the art is there for too long, it seems like it’s just part of the décor. So it moves in and out, and there are some super talented artists that provide works for us.”

Monson said many artists have sold works in the space, or even gotten commissions based on their displays. “So it’s very cool that we can provide that.”

Skinner appreciates other elements of the Urban Food Brood vibe, like how it feels like the center of a town, only indoors and on a smaller scale, with each of the businesses acting as a storefront of sorts.

“I’m super happy with how it all came out,” she said. “I have a big window, and I did a brick facade outside the bakery so you can look through the window and see the bakers cooking. Vincent has the same idea; so do the others. That’s kind of neat.”

The complex, which is open Tuesday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., also hosts regular events, such as food truck Fridays and Thursday farmers markets from 4 to 8 p.m., which have already begun for this season.

“It’s early in the season for farmers markets, but hopefully, as the season progresses, we’ll have more and more items. We’re also going to try to do music,” Skinner said.

A sign outside the Urban Food Brood

A sign outside the Urban Food Brood lists the businesses currently operating there.

“The thing that’s great about the nighttime market is that all of our downtown Springfield markets have always been during the day, when people are at work. What are they going to do with their products after they’ve purchased them? Are they going to put them in the car or bring them back to the office? So this is kind of nice. People can just stop on their way home.”


Fueling Growth

Andrea Monson said the partners in the Urban Food Brood have been pleased with the organic growth of the Gasoline Alley complex.

“We don’t actively market; we rely on word of mouth,” she told BusinessWest. “And I have to say that the people who come here are very cool. They’re great customers. They’re great to my staff, they’re great to all of us, and they’re very supportive. They tell people who tell people who tell people, and now we have this amazing group of people that come here to support us.

“The cool thing is, we all have our own following. Wicked Whisk has their own following. Nosh has their own following. People come here, and they’ll pick up some sausage and go, ‘you know, let me get a kombucha, let me get some mushrooms, let me get some spinach.’ And you go home, and you have all of this really good product that’s manufactured here in Springfield.”

And it’s not just people from the city, Corsello said. Urban Food Brood has been drawing from all the surrounding towns, steadily developing a reputation … not as something vaguely Northampton-ish, but something uniquely and vibrantly Springfield.

“We’re really excited about it,” he said. “It’s only the beginning.”