Mess Hall + Union Market + Ris PRESENT

Launch Pad @
Union Market

A Culinary Entrepreneur Competition

HAVE A GOOD IDEA? WANT TO GROW? Get your project in front of Patrick O’Connell, Aaron Silverman, Drew Nieporent, David Hall, Ris Lacoste and Al Goldberg…

Launch Pad at Union Market: A competition to identify and launch a promising new culinary concept at Washington, DC’s Union Market.

That’s not all. We have set up a board of advisors, who are at the center of DC’s food economy, to help you with what they know best. Get consultations on leasing, business plan vetting, capital raise strategies and restaurant 101 from the Hilton Brothers, DC Central Kitchen’s Terrell Danley, Eden’s Richie Brandenburg, Eric Kessler, Founder of Arabella Advisors, Tokorean’s Mike Lenard, Winston Lord of Venga, Spike Mendelsohn of Good Stuff Eatery and DC Food Policy Council Chair, Masseria Chef/Owner Nick Stefanelli, and others.

The winner will take over a fully built out, quick service space for 6 months in our city’s largest entrepreneurial food hub, Union Market. Here the concept will be put to the test. And of course…. they will also receive valuable prizes and invaluable networking opportunities.

The Winner of Launch Pad 2014, Mason Dixie Biscuit Company, was accelerated to market in December 2014, quickly becoming DC’s breakfast darling. In just 4 months’ time they have expanded their footprint from DC to Baltimore and Charlotte, NC.

Now in collaboration with restaurateur Ris Lacoste and Union Market, Mess Hall announces the second incarnation of the Launch Pad competition.

Start-up businesses need more than an idea to get started, they need help from seasoned operators to get their ventures off the ground. This competition brings together industry veterans and current operators with a range of experience in the DC community. With your collective support Launch Pad will bring a promising new business to market and accelerate its success.

Have a good idea? Here’s how to begin…


Food Entrepreneurs will compete for the opportunity to launch their own DC-based culinary business at Union Market.


A business plan competition that will narrow applicants to five finalists who will pitch their concept during a live finale to a panel of industry experts, including renowned chefs Patrick O’Connell, Aaron Silverman, Ris Lacoste, Drew Nieporent, investor David Hall, and Al Goldberg, founder of Mess Hall. Successful proposals will embody a commercially viable product and service; intelligent marketing and operational plans; and an emphasis on local food-sourcing and sustainable practices.


Concept to open at the RIS space at Union Market in Washington, DC. In 2012 the historic Union Market building was renovated into a thriving marketplace of more than 40 local artisans and makers. Today the Market has become the culinary epicenter of Washington, DC, a place that infuses the entire neighborhood with energy. The Finale event will be held at Union Market’s Dock5 and attended by industry leaders, members of the press and the general public. A party will follow to celebrate the winner and the spirit of the competition which is to connect food entrepreneurs with people who love good food and can help small businesses grow.


To encourage entrepreneurship within the food community and enable the launch of a culinary business concept.


Contest runs approximately 3 months, beginning April 16th. Applicants will be narrowed down to 5 finalists who will compete in a cook-off event in July.


The Winner will receive an incredible set of tools and services. See Official Rules for terms and restrictions.

  • 6 - 12 month opportunity to launch a dream concept using a built out space in a prime location at Union Market
  • Free Mess Hall membership
  • Full Service Restaurant Pop-up opportunity at Mess Hall’s event space
  • Mentorship from Ris Lacoste
  • Consultation on lease negotiations with master DC restaurateurs the Hilton Brothers
  • A luncheon organized with successful restaurant investors
  • And a growing list of unique prizes and opportunities courtesy of our event Sponsors.
  • Business plan vetting and design services from Edens
  • PLUS - All finalists will have their knives sharpened by DC Sharp
Key Dates
April 16, 2015

Registration Opens.

May 11, 2015

Registration deadline.

June 10, 2015

Finalists Announced.

July 12, 2015

Finalists will present at the Grand Finale to be held at Union Market’s Dock5 and attended by industry leaders and members of the press. A party will follow to celebrate the winner and the spirit of the competition which is to connect food entrepreneurs with people that can help small businesses grow.

August 31, 2015

Winner opens for business at Union Market


Al Goldberg – Mess Hall

David Hall – Revolution

Ris Lacoste – RIS

Drew Nieporent – Restaurateur, Myriad Restaurant Group

Patrick O’Connell – The Inn at Little Washington

Aaron Silverman – Rose’s Luxury

Audience Vote – Each member of the live audience will receive a single vote. The Audience Vote will count as 5% of the overall vote.


Richie Brandenburg – Directory of Culinary Strategy, Edens

Terrell Danley – Chef, DC Central Kitchen

Eric and Ian Hilton – Restaurateurs

Kathy Hollinger – Restaurateurs

Eric Kessler – Founder / Managing Director, Arabella Advisors

Mike Lenard – Owner, TaKorean, Former Head of the Food Truck Association

Winston Lord – Co-Founder, Venga

Spike Mendelsohn – Good Stuff Eatery, DC Food Policy Council Chair

Nick Stefanelli – Chef / Owner, Masseria

Wendy Stuart — Co-founder, Food Works Group

Mark Toigo – Grower



It supports up-and-coming food entrepreneurs by providing commercial kitchens combined with institutional knowledge and extraordinary opportunities. Mess Hall supports a vibrant and diverse local food community, all while leveraging shared resources and a true spirit of collaboration.

The 10,000 sq ft facility boasts 4 shared kitchens, walk-in refrigeration, collaborative offices, ample storage, and an expansive event space where food brings people together.


Chef Ris Lacoste has been a fixture on the DC culinary scene for almost two decades. For Ris it has always been about the food and the people. In 2009, she opened RIS, an incarnation of her personal style and taste, which embodies her passion for flavor and commitment to excellence.

Beyond the kitchen, Lacoste’s favorite place to be is in the middle of a local famers’ market, hunting down the freshest fruits and vegetables and meeting the men and women who grow these foods. These markets are not only a source of inspiration for her cuisine, but a meeting point to talk about the importance of investment in the local community and dedication to the ideals of local-sustainable farming. Her involvement in Launch Pad is pure Ris–a dedication to giving back to those who have given her so much.

RIS 2275 L Street NW, Washington, DC.


Union Market is helping to transform the NE section of DC by giving the best creative minds and businesses a place to connect, build community and launch new concepts.

The historic Market building was renovated in 2012 into a thriving marketplace of more than 40 local artisans and makers, from Salt and Sundry to Rappahannock Oyster Bar, Chefs not only sharpen their knives here – they try out new concepts. The Market has become the culinary epicenter of Washington, DC, located in NE next to Gallaudet and the KIPP schools. Union Market creates communities, launches businesses and believes in supporting local entrepreneurs as an economic driver for the entire city.

"Opening at Union Market was my first venture outside of our food truck and taught me many things about running the business and operations. We were very fortunate to be a part of the grand opening in the Fall of 2012 and continue to be an anchor tenant. Union Market has opened up a world of possibilities for our business in terms of visibility, press, and solidifying operations.” Mike Lenard, TaKorean

Union Market 1309 5th Street NE, Washington, DC 20002

Presenting Sponsors
Knappogue Logo Jeffersons Logo Goslings Logo Pallini Logo
Eagle Bank Logo Industree Logo DC Brau Logo Equity Eats Logo US Foods Logo Edible DC Logo Gordy's Pickle Jar Logo Route 11 Potato Chips Logo