Posted by Patrick Maness
Today's rising demand for local, organic food has combined with an increased desire among consumers to know where their food comes from and how it is prepared to create what many have called “the food movement.” Traces of the movement have been perceived in one form or another since the harvest and production of food first became industrialized many decades ago. But today, what was once part of the counterculture has become mainstream.
The food movement emphasizes local ingredients produced by local businesses, giving rise to a new economy of microproducers — people and companies that make food in small batches and sell locally.
From a production standpoint, microproducers face an ongoing challenge. Let’s say you make small batches of salsa and sell them to local restaurants, markets and at art fairs. In order to sustain both you and your business, you need to produce a large quantity — larger than most home kitchens can handle. Few microproducers, however, can afford a facility with the commercial equipment required to make such quantities.
In response to these needs, community commercial kitchens have appeared throughout the country. The idea here is simple: For a small price, anyone can rent out commercial kitchen space and have access to equipment and appliances that allow them to produce a high volume of food.
For many small-business owners in the food industry, whether caterers, food truck owners or microproducers, these community kitchens have become integral to their business model. For those looking for an exciting and relatively new business venture, opening such a kitchen is a promising prospect.
The commercial kitchen business model
Located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Kindred Kitchen is a non-profit community kitchen that provides a look into how such kitchens operate.
With a mission “to provide an affordable, high-quality work environment for food entrepreneurs desiring to start up or grow their food business,” Kindred Kitchen aims to connect like-minded entrepreneurs in a dynamic and supportive setting. Throughout the country, whether you travel to the Bay area or Boston, you’ll find this vision of community (as opposed to competition) is at the heart of many kitchens.
It’s common for kitchens to charge a combination of flexible, per-hour pricing, a monthly lease and a security deposit. Hourly rates vary but tend to range between $15 and $20 per hour. Kindred Kitchen, for example, charges $16 an hour, which is adjustable depending on need and how many hours you rent each month.
In addition to serving business needs, many community kitchens provide an educational aspect, too, making available a space where restaurants and caterers can train employees or individuals can offer cooking classes.
Because community kitchens serve many different purposes and respond to a need felt by local food businesses, opening one is both a business opportunity and a way to become involved with the local community and economy.
In this blog series, we’ll explore what you’ll need to get started:
How much space will you need?
We’ll take a look at some factors that might determine how much space you need, based on the people and the businesses using the space. What is the average size of a commercial kitchen? How much space do you need for the foods cost commonly prepared there?
What cooking equipment do you need?
Different communities need different types of equipment. For example, in an urban setting where food trucks are more common, you might have to consider equipment more suitable for prepping food-truck-style food. In addition to some of the more specific needs you’ll want to consider, we’ll go over the staples every kitchen needs.
What supplies are you going to provide?
Some community kitchens include everything — pots and pans, utensils, disposables, cleaning supplies and more. Others are pretty bare bones and require patrons to bring much of what they will use. What are the pros and cons of each model? How will your rental costs be affected? What essentials should you provide in your kitchen?
How do you get the word out?
The primary audience for community commercial kitchens is made up of entrepreneur food producers who plan to sell their foods at markets or food stands. How can you market to these individuals? We’ll go over some tips for reaching out and developing relationships in your area.