A year after Mason Dixie Biscuit Company submitted a business plan to Mess Hall's inaugural Launch Pad competition, the company is riding the wave of one of the year's biggest food trends, with a Relay Foods delivery deal and a Union Market stall that always sells out. The biscuit company's success is thanks, in part, to the influx of cash* and mentoring it won from the Edgewood culinary incubator.

Al Goldberg, founder of Mess Hall and the Launch Pad contest. (Photo by Ben Droz)
Al Goldberg, founder of Mess Hall and the Launch Pad contest. (Photo by Ben Droz)

Now, Mess Hall founder Al Goldberg is gearing up to do it all over again. On April 16, he'll begin taking applications for this year's Launch Pad, a competition to find the most viable culinary business proposal in the area. The search will culminate in a live selection event featuring judges Patrick O'Connell of the Inn at Little Washington, Aaron Silverman of Rose's Luxury, and Ris Lacoste of Ris, among others.

The winner will get the chance to take over Ris's stall in Union Market -- a particularly desirable spot in the market for its visibility and top-of-the-line equipment and vented hood -- for at least six months. As a partner in the competition, Lacoste will also mentor the winner.

Last time Goldberg ran the competition, he received 50 applications for businesses ranging from ice cream to tonics to spiced nuts. With the average business plan coming in at 20 or more pages, he reviewed more than 1,000 pages.

"Last time we were attracting people that were of any food background," Goldberg said. "This time ... we don’t know what we’re going to get, but we think it will attract people that are more restaurant-centric."

Applicants can submit their plans via Mess Hall's Web site. The contest closes May 11, and five finalists will be announced June 10. On July 12, the panel of judges will convene at Union Market's Dock 5 to watch the final presentations and pick a winner, who will then have access to a dedicated panel of advisers including restaurateurs Spike Mendelsohn, Eric and Ian Hilton and a variety of experts in the fields of technology, real estate and financial services.

As for Goldberg, he has a few words of advice for future applicants: "I would say assemble yourself with a really strong team. That was one differentiator," he said.  "It’s very difficult as a business owner to have the marketing savvy, the operational savvy and the knowledge on the accounting side ... I can speak to that from personal experience. Being a one-man band is incredibly difficult."

*Clarification: Though the previous Launch Pad price included a $500,000 investment opportunity with EquityEats, Mason Dixie CEO Ayeshah Abuelhiga says the company has been self-financed.