Chicken cooking facility to bring 220 living-wage jobs to Central neighborhood

The project received a nearly $9.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to transform a vacant Goodwill building into a facility that will prepare fully cooked frozen meals for institutions like schools and hospitals.
A proposed Central neighborhood food production facility at the corner of E. 55th St. and Central Ave. is shown in blue-gray and yellow on a rendering presented to the Cleveland City Planning Commission on Jan. 6.

A food production company that received nearly $9.6 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is planning to bring a cooking facility to a vacant building in the Central neighborhood, creating upwards of 220 living-wage jobs.

The Oviedo, Florida-based International Food Solutions sells fully prepared frozen meals to schools, the military, hospitals, and retail stores across the country. It serves 5,300 school districts nationwide and about two-thirds of the school districts in Ohio, said the company’s co-president Lincoln Yee. 

The company plans to redevelop the vacant Goodwill Industries of Greater Cleveland building at the corner of E. 55th Street and Central Avenue into an automated poultry processing cooking facility that will prepare chicken-based meals. The facility will bring jobs operating the processing equipment to the community, with wages starting at $22 an hour, Yee said. 

Over 75% of the jobs will be accessible to people with a high school degree or equivalent,  Ward 5 Council Member Richard Starr said in an email to The Land. International Food Solutions will provide training in food safety, hazard analysis, and other USDA-required areas, and the company will partner with local and regional workforce development organizations to help recruit and train employees, he said.

Yee, who came to Cleveland in 1995 and still lives in the area, nicknamed the project “Project Renaissance,” because it’s remaking a vacant building into something new again.

“Ultimately, we know that this project will be a beacon in the community,” he said. “We’re not too far from Opportunity Corridor, so this is gonna tie into the overall vision for the city to increase opportunities throughout the region and in the area.” 

The former Goodwill facility at 2295 E. 55th St. is slated to become a food production facility by late 2024. (Photo by Lee Chilcote)

Details of the plan 

The USDA announced on Monday that International Food Solutions received a $9,575,250 grant, which is part of an effort to expand meat processing in the U.S. The funding will go toward developing and expanding the vacant Goodwill building into a facility that can process 60 million pounds of poultry a year and includes cold and dry storage and two processing lines. 

The chicken cooking facility will be located next to the Snap Gourmet Foods facility in a building formerly owned by Tom Paige Catering Company. Yee and Allan Lam, the co-founders and co-presidents of International Food Solutions, also founded and own Snap Gourmet Foods, which produces meal kits, with Jason Chamoun. 

The two E. 55th properties will eventually be connected, said Kirk Jaudes, senior vice president of business development for International Food Solutions. They produce different products, though the two companies have a partnership.

The upcoming chicken cooking facility could produce food for International Food Solutions’ two brands, Asian Food Solutions and Comida Vida, which sell Asian and Latin cuisine, respectively, as well as potentially producing new products, Jaudes said. 

At the Cleveland City Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 6, chief city planner Shannan Leonard presented a proposal to change the use, area, and height districts of parcels of land east of E. 55th Street and between Hawthorne and Central Avenues for the development project. 

Commission members raised concerns about the odors, noise, and waste that come with processing live chickens near homes. (The project was described as a “chicken processing plant” in the presentation.) Chamoun, a partner on the project, clarified that there will not be live animals at the site and that it will really be a cooking facility that will turn raw meat into dishes like pre-cooked chicken fajita strips.  

“The machinery will be versatile enough to produce a variety of different products, but all of the product coming out of that plant will be fully cooked product,” International Food Solutions’ Jaudes told The Land. 

The planning commission approved the zoning map proposal with the request that they come back with their design layout and a complete sanitation plan for the project. 

The company hopes to break ground in the second quarter of this year, and the project will require about a year of construction, Yee said. 

Business partners Lincoln Yee, Allan Lam, and Jason Chamoun, who plan to bring a new prepared food production facility to the Central neighborhood, also founded Snap Gourmet Foods at 2275 E. 55th. (Photo by Lee Chilcote)

What will the cooking facility bring to the community? 

The Central neighborhood has a median income of $10,440, according to 2021 data from the Center for Community Solutions.

“So when you start thinking about full-time employment and it’s around $22, $23 an hour, you’re talking about some life-changing generational adjustment that can happen,” Council Member Starr said. 

The cooking facility will bring jobs that are within walking distance of Central residents, he said. The area around the facility will also be fully lit and will have 24-hour armed security, which he said will improve safety in the neighborhood. To limit noise pollution, trucks will be rerouted, instead of going up Central Avenue, where many senior residents live. 

Yee hopes that the chicken cooking facility will contribute to making the area a food hub in Cleveland, building on the momentum of other nearby food businesses. Cleveland City Planning Commission chair Lillian Kuri echoed this sentiment at the commission’s Jan. 6 meeting, pointing to the Green City Growers production greenhouse on Diamond Ave. and Central Kitchen on Carnegie Ave, which underwent several expansions at the end of last year. 

The Central neighborhood has been without a grocery store for over three years ever since Dave’s Market left, though. Starr said one of his goals for this year is to bring a grocery store back to the neighborhood. He’s working with the Burten, Bell, Carr Development (the community development corporation that serves Central) and the city’s departments of community development and economic development to make that happen, he said. 

Starr said he has been working closely with the administration, planning commission, and chief of integrated development Jeff Epstein to ensure that the cooking facility project is “not just an experiment project, but actually something that can be beneficial and helpful to spearhead development in the Central neighborhood.” 

The project has the support of the city administration and Council Member Starr. At a community meeting in September, the project got buy-in from residents as well, Starr said. 

“I don’t remember the last time we’ve had this type of investment in our neighborhood as far as development with job opportunities,” he said. 

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