As a Cottage Food Operator, there are times when you can’t use your home kitchen. You might have pets; the kitchen is too small, or you don’t want the hassle of operating a food business from home. There are alternatives. Using a commercial kitchen that is a shared-use, incubator or commissary. I must start by explaining what these commercial kitchens are. Then I’ll share how the word “share” can well, take on a whole new meaning.
A Shared Use Kitchen defined as a commercial kitchen used food entrepreneurs. The amount of help from management varies. Some shared-use kitchen offers business development and product development. There is also instruction provided on using commercial kitchen equipment.
A Kitchen Incubator does more than supply you with commercial kitchen equipment. An incubator works with food entrepreneurs to start their business. Acknowledge barriers to entry into the marketplace and helps with risk reduction. Incubators help with licensing and certifications, packaging, product line expansion, marketing and more.
A Commissary Kitchen is a commercial kitchen for food service providers. For example, caterers, specialty food trucks and mobile food businesses. Today a variety of food entrepreneurs use commissaries to produce their products. Renting a commissary kitchen is supposedly less expensive than renting a storefront. If you haven’t noticed, all three kitchens have one thing in common, commercial kitchen equipment. This allows food entrepreneurs to make products not allowed in the home kitchen.
For the baker, it might be cheesecake. For the cook, it might be canning pumpkin butter. And for kettle corn vendor, it might be making large vats of popcorn. Commercial kitchens help you take more product to market and you may notice that the names associated with the kitchens are used interchangeably.
Other locations to consider when looking for a commercial kitchen:
- Church kitchens
- School kitchens (Check with private schools too.)
- Congregate meal sites
- Restaurant space during off hours
Shared Use Does Not Mean Eat My Pie
When I first started my home-based pie shop, I decided to use a local shared use kitchen. I was new to baking pies for profit. The shared-use kitchen was new to working with vendors. We were both just starting out in the food biz.One major piece of advice to anyone using a shared-use kitchen, caveat emptor or let the buyer beware. What I mean by this is you alone are responsible for checking the quality and suitability of the facility. Click To Tweet
I thought I did a thorough job of investigating the new kitchen facility, but I didn’t. The owners of the kitchen were not business savvy. And although there were kitchen rules and regulations for vendor use. This was not the case for the owners.
The Owner Ate My Pie
I want to think the owners were well-intentioned. But when the owner started eating my mini pies and leaving cash on my 20 Pan End Load Bun-Sheet Pan Rack, my blood began to boil. I don’t know what possessed this person to think they could walk into the cooler, pick out a mini pie and eat it and leave money on the rack. I baked pies for two local markets, not for the owner. What made the situation worse was I had to tell the kitchen owner to stop eating my pies. This person saw nothing wrong with what they did.
The Last Straw
The straw that broke the camel’s back happened when I had pies in the oven and I placed an oven thermometer on the middle rack. It was not in front and not too far back that I couldn’t reach it. (I’m a bit short.) I went to my work area to clean up while the pies were baking and one of the owners moved the thermometer to the back of the oven where I couldn’t reach it.
I can only assume this person was teaching me a lesson. Showing me where to thermometer should go. Anyway, that was it. How dare you move the thermometer without telling me. Are you crazy? There were a few other major issues, like mice, the stench from a vendor making pots of funky food (poor ventilation) and, well I’ll stop there.
If you think it is difficult living in a home with other people. Try using a kitchen facility with folks who do not respect your product (and they turn out to be the owners of the kitchen). If I pay to use the kitchen facility, then let me use it on my terms. I’ll follow your rules, but you better keep your hands off my products. I did have a conversation with the owner, but by then, I was done.
The lesson learned is commercial kitchen owners will ask that you follow rules and regulations. The flip side of this is that they must respect you as a vendor and operate in a professional manner. You are paying for the space you use and if they want to keep your business, they need to keep their hands off your product.
I look back now and still get furious.