Food entrepreneurs get lessons from First Course, free for Allegheny County residents

Four Pittsburgh organizations have teamed up to create a new online learning tool for rising food entrepreneurs. What’s more, Allegheny County residents can use it for free.

Aspiring restaurateurs, food truck owners, food product makers and other food entrepreneurs can learn all about how to develop, promote, finance and raise funds for their businesses by taking First Course.

Eric Sloss is principal partner at economic development agency Shift Collaborative, one of the four groups behind He says there’s been a “proliferation of food startups because of the culinary renaissance that’s happening in our city.” His organization wanted to find ways to help those folks get assistance in “a more accessible way” than a workshop or classroom course.

La Dorita, a community kitchen and food business in Sharpsburg, has provided on-site workshops and a written manual for food entrepreneurs, and owner Josephine Oria has provided some of the same content for the online format. The other two collaborators are New Run Rising, a business incubation and acceleration nonprofit, and Smallman Galley, a Strip District restaurant incubator. Heinz Endowments provided grant funding.

The online class is structured as eight modules. Users read text, watch short videos and answer questions at the end to make sure they absorb what they hear. They can also develop a business plan and get it reviewed by experts.

“One of the biggest things we find with people who are trying to start new businesses is the fear of the blank page,” said Scott Wolovich, executive director of New Sun Rising. “First Course breaks down the task of developing a business plan into smaller increments.”

The modules cover topics such as fundraising, branding, finances, business planning and more. One module provides specific information that will be helpful to locals, including food product laws for Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County Health Department and the commonwealth. The rest of the content would be useful to a food entrepreneur anywhere, but those living outside Allegheny County must pay $100 for an access code for the course.

Mr. Sloss believes much of the course’s value is found in the “real-world questions that sometimes aren’t asked” in other formats. “You find out how much time it takes out of your personal life to become an entrepreneur.”

He said the module on branding is important because “you have to get it right the first time” or your product, no matter how good it is, won’t sell.

Some of the course’s video content came from “Beyond the Menu,” a series of talks by food entrepreneurs at Smallman Galley, where they discussed the pitfalls and challenges of starting their businesses.

Mr. Sloss noted that Shift Collaborative was well suited to build this platform because employees there are not only business incubators but also academics. Mr. Sloss teaches communications courses at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, so he knows how to build curriculum as well as how to get a business up and running.

The makers are already planning extra content, including modules that will teach how to make businesses sustainable and how to get organic certification.

“Food is a common language between different cultures, incomes, races and backgrounds,” Mr. Wolovich said. “It’s a great equalizer in our community.”

Malt whiskey and pierogies

Wigle Whiskey is throwing a pierogi festival to celebrate the release of its newest spirit, Summer Malt, made with organic malted wheat and barley and aged in a new charred oak barrel for two years.

The Renaissance Pierogi Fest will be from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Friday at Wigle Whiskey Barrelhouse and Whiskey Garden on the North Side.

To celebrate the wheat used in the whiskey, chef Rafael Vencio of “Kanto” Kitchen will cook up some wheat-y treats in the form of dumplings and pierogies. 

Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival will perform at the event, and Chase the Barons will play live music.

Tickets are $15, and include two Summer Malt cocktails and a pour of Summer Malt. Tickets:


Basics Boot Camp: Cheesemaking: Learn to make fresh mozzarella, homemade butter, fresh ricotta, burrata and paneer. 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Crate in Scott. $65.

Delicious Plant-Based Sauces: Learn to make vegan sauces and dressings and take home recipes. 7 p.m. Aug. 2 at East End Food Co-op, Point Breeze. Free. (search for “Delicious Plant-Based Sauces”).

Eat, drink, learn

Farmer’s Fork Event Series: Vegetarian meals made with local food, live music, drinks and friends in a 125-year-old barn on a fourth-generation organic farm. On Saturday: Small plates by Driftwood Oven at 7 p.m., $75 ($15 for ages 2 to 12) includes fundraiser for 412 Food Rescue. On  Aug. 20: Five-course dinner by The Vandal at 5 p.m., $95. On Sept. 23: Five-course meal by Spak Bros, $95. All dinners held at Ferderber Farm in Valencia. (search for “Farmer’s Fork”).

Connections Lunch & Learn: Learn about local food resources while networking with farmers, food producers, consumers and other food industry professionals. Noon Tuesday,at Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus in McCandless; 2 p.m. Aug. 10 at Mad Mex in Ross; 2 p.m. Aug. 21 at McGinnis Sisters in Monroeville; 1 p.m. Sept. 12 at North Country Brewing in Slippery Rock; noon Oct. 3 at Mindful Brewing in Castle Shannon; and noon Oct. 6 at Jamison Farm in Latrobe. Free, but register ahead.

Other events

Science After Dark 21+ Beer Night: Explore the chemistry of beer and enjoy free samples from 14 local breweries. Includes presentations by beer experts, homebrewing demos, a talk on the history of beer, and snacks including beer and cheese pairings, jerky and make-your-own pretzel necklaces. 6 to 10 p.m. Friday at Carnegie Science Center, North Shore. $24; ages 21 and up only.

Product Launch Tea Party: Try new teas and steeped tea snacks, learn about matcha, take home a free gift and register for raffles. 10 p.m. Friday at Crystalline Technology in Monessen. Free, but $5 to $10 donation suggested at the door. Register at (search for “Pittsburgh Area Steeped Tea Product Launch ParTea”).

Food Truck Festival/Market: Thirty food trucks, arts and crafts vendors and live music. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday at Highmark Stadium, Station Square. (search for “Food Truck Festival/Market”).

Rebecca Sodergren:; @pgfoodevents.


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