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Something is cooking at ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen in downtown Gary.

The culinary business incubator, conceived of by South Side Chicago artist Theaster Gates and funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, just graduated its first class of entrepreneurs. They're looking to start catering companies, bake cupcakes, help people lose weight with healthy diets and even open restaurants.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the new enterprise at 441 E. Fifth Ave. across from the U.S. Steel Yard was a success.

"The culinary incubator participants have taken it to a different level," she said. "They have invested their dreams in the ArtHouse, and that means they're investing in the community. The ArtHouse is so much more than brick-and-mortar, and represents dreams to start businesses and invest in the city of Gary."

Gary residents who want to go out to dinner or hire a caterer currently don't have a lot of choices, Freeman-Wilson said.

"This is going to increase our chances exponentially and, by doing that, increase revenue," she said.

ArtHouse has been training people how to operate a food-based bCulinary incubator helping launch new food businesses in Steel Cityusiness and giving them access to its commercial kitchen.

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The first class included Allegra Parnell of Allegras Love Bakery, Christinae Hudson of CUP'D Bakery Boutique, Jennifer Lovette-Cephus of Nanas Sweets Bakery, Shannon Smith of NJOY Eats & Prep, Keith Heyward of Smokin Hot Barbecue, Alma Wilkes of LeFountain Alternative & Holstic Health Service, Kymberly Crosby-McCoy of L.E.S. EAT, Katie Bohn and Aldwin Livingston of Ham+Boen, Herman Miller of Herm's Bakery, Booker T. Jones III of INsatiableNygts Entertainment LLC, Frank and Kimenique Jones of Kalifornia Jones Company, Marc Witcher Sr. of The Fish Hut, Mario Newell of Forevers Catering, and John Allen of various business ventures.

Chef Pam Ward, who appeared on the Food Network show “Cooks vs. Cons” and serves as the Jackson family's personal chef whenever they return to town, teaches at ArtHouse. She's taught cooking techniques, how to save money and what supplies they should have at home.

"This is the best thing that's happened in Northwest Indiana," she said. "I'm a Gary resident, and we need this. We need to educate our kids for the future."

Allegra Parnell got guidance during the months-long program on how to ramp up her business, Allegras Love Bakery, which makes cakes, cookies, cupcakes and other baked goods.

"I do events, largely by word of mouth," she said. "I'm trying to get into farmers markets and grow from there. I'm thinking about trying to get a small space somewhere, in Southlake Mall or some place like that. I've known people who've had kiosks in the mall."

ArtHouse also hosts free culture events, which this month include a class on filmmaking with mobile phones, meal prep, yoga and a discussion circle on Ben Franklin's 13 virtues.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.