Shuttered Incubator Pilotworks Still Owes Local Food Vendors Thousands of Dollars

Michael McCabe operated a hot sauce business from the Brooklyn Pilotworks location that abruptly shuttered over the weekend, and now he doesn’t know when he’ll receive the $2,000 the defunct company owes him.

He’s part of the company’s private distribution operation, and of the 175 vendors kicked out of their working space since the restaurant incubator flopped last Saturday, the ones involved in the distribution program may be facing the largest financial blows. Multiple sources say there are members owed anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000.

McCabe used the startup’s distribution program to get his hot sauce brand called Mabel’s into specialty food stores and local grocers around NYC. The program functioned as a separate arm of the incubator kitchen, in which Pilotworks would purchase members’ goods to sell and distribute them to stores around the city — a way for the small businesses to introduce their brands to a larger audience.

“They were ordering products from us on the distribution side knowing that they wouldn’t be able to pay us, and that’s kind of like rubbing salt in the wound,” McCabe says.

It’s been a shocking week for those involved in Pilotworks, whose abrupt and mysterious closure follows two years of rapid growth. Since opening in 2016, venture capitalists and even the city have invested millions in the start-up. NYC’s Economic Development Corp backed it, and the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President even invested $1.3 million in the build-out of the facility, then called Brooklyn FoodWorks. As recently as December, the company secured $13 million in funding. The EDC said in a statement that the news “was as surprising as it is alarming.”

But other than an email sent to members that stated the company didn’t have the “necessary capital to continue operations” and a brief note on its website, Pilotworks has remained silent. When reached by Eater, the company only sent the same statement on its site.

“No one’s heard from any of the management. Not even a single word,” says David Roa, co-founder of Superlost Coffee. “It’s just mind blowing to me.”