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Cooking Up Entrepreneurship in Twin Cities Incubator Kitchens

Heidi Skoog, maker of Serious Jam, Courtesy Kern Nickerson

Journey Gosselin and Heidi Skoog at City Food Studio, courtesy Kern Nickerson

At work in the GIA Kitchen, courtesy GIA Kitchen

Erik of Froz Broz working at City Food Studio, courtesy City Food Studio

Brewing chai at Verdant Tea, courtesy Verdant Tea

Kitchen in the Market, courtesy Kitchen in the Market

Formally organized, community shared kitchens—also known as incubator kitchens or rental kitchens—have been gaining momentum in the Twin Cities. The movement got a boost in 2008 when the City of Minneapolis initiated Homegrown Minneapolis, “a citywide initiative expanding our community’s ability to grow, process, distribute, eat and compost more healthy, sustainable, locally grown food,” the website explains. The initiative “brings together key partners from local government, area businesses, community organizations, non-profits, and residents to build a healthy, local food system.”

Another boost came in 2010 when Minnesota passed the “Pickle Bill.” According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s website, the bill “allows the limited sale of certain home-processed and home-canned foods.” In 2011, Kindred Kitchen in North Minneapolis, Kitchen in the Market inside Midtown Global Market, and GIA Kitchen in Saint Paul opened to food entrepreneurs growing out of their home kitchens, and caterers and food truck owners needing scheduled workspace. Since then, incubator kitchens have been popping up all over the Twin Cities. They’re also appearing in church basements and community centers.

All have certified food-safe spaces, large equipment (such as walk-in freezers, refrigerators, and dry storage) and other conveniences often too costly for one individual to afford. Many of the kitchens offer space for prepping, cooking, and packaging products. Some furnish basics like utensils, pots, and pans, while others require food makers to bring their own. Rates, additional storage costs, and lease or rental agreements vary with each kitchen—and may have hourly, monthly, or yearly minimums.

Each incubator kitchen differentiates itself by price, type of services, and amenities. As a whole, however, the burgeoning Twin Cities movement offers a variety of unique opportunities and philosophies about how kitchens can be structured and operated.

Incubating innovation

Kitchen in the Market offers not only a community kitchen, but also has a separate kitchen for classes, an event space that can be rented for dinners or gatherings, and a retail area that often features products produced in the kitchen. Added bonuses for food makers: “If a maker has forgotten to bring a key ingredient with them, they can simply walk through Global Market and find what they need,” explain co-owners Tracy Morgan and Molly Hermann. “And if they make something ready to be sold and distributed, we have built-in channels with the vendors.”

Kindred Kitchen offers two side-by-side studio kitchens and a food preparation room, with high-quality commercial grade equipment available for rental. Kindred also offers classes on starting a food business, a step-by-step list on licensure and certification, and offers makers flexibility for storing new equipment or machinery.

GIA Kitchen includes a gluten-free work area, and a separate room where products that include gluten can be mixed without contaminating the other space. The dry, refrigerated, and frozen storage spaces are enormous. GIA’s forklift is available for use when a delivery of pallets or boxes arrives, or products need to be shipped for distribution.

Two of the newest community kitchens—City Food Studio in South Minneapolis, and Verdant Tea in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis—describe themselves as “incubator labs” that encourage new ideas and collaboration. Building on relationships they find in these shared kitchens space has given FrozBroz Craft Minneapolis Ice Cream  at City Food Studio, and Saint Paul-based Sweet Science Ice Cream at Verdant’s kitchen, a way to utilize products from other makers in their confections.

Also, food makers at City Food Studio are devising ways in which they can continue to work together to promote their products. Gift baskets with makers’ product samples, to sell on nights City Food is open to the public, might be one option.

David and Lily Duckler began making Verdant Tea Chai in a rented space at Kitchen in the Market before developing a philosophy for their own shared kitchen space. “We work with each individual food producer to come up with an arrangement that allows them to not feel the pressure of a time clock,” David says. “We have a shared calendar like many of the other kitchens, but we don’t charge by the hour.”

City Food Studio, started by Journey Gosselin, is located within the growing artist community near the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago in Minneapolis. Gosselin is collaborating with his neighbors on various projects. Metalworkers at Chicago Avenue Fire Arts next door are creating a new building façade and working with Gosselin on possibly forging cookie irons for a new baking class. He also wants to showcase work by local artists in the studio.

The kitchen includes a designated dairy room where FrozBroz is currently makes its ice cream. Gosselin plans to add an area for making and aging cheese, his specialty. City Food Studio will also be offering cooking classes that dig deeper into the science of food, and offering a flexible space for pop-up restaurant nights and any others ideas that the kitchen cooks up. Heidi Skoog, maker of Serious Jam, chose City Food Studio as her kitchen because it also offered a place for her to process glass, which not every kitchen allows.

Sharing benefits, community

For many food entrepreneurs, sharing kitchen space provides greater buying power as distributors can make one central delivery. Together, food makers can order larger quantities and have the opportunity to try new ingredients with less risk, as they can buy in bulk but spread the cost across several entities. Some kitchens can accommodate the industrial-size specialty machines that entrepreneurs need as their businesses grow.

Distribution can also be a challenge. City Food Studio and Verdant Tea have business models that include retail space for makers to sell their products. FrozBroz’s owner Ben Solberg says that, “The idea of having different kinds of locally made foods all in one place is appealing to a lot of people.” Verdant Tea also allows kitchen partners to host events and product tastings: Sweet Science Ice Cream has been a favorite for these events with lines that wind down the block.

Sharing a kitchen also comes with a built-in support system for food entrepreneurs. On its website, GIA Kitchen describes itself as “more than a production facility, it is a community of small business owners that are passionate about their food craft and committed to building a stronger and more vibrant economy.”

“It is all about the community, and honoring people and their ideas,” says Sarah Couenhoven, founder of Bonus Vivus, maker of Thuro Bread and bars, and current manager of GIA. “It takes so much energy for food entrepreneurs create the initial idea and get it going. Then you need a community that will give moral support, and brainstorm new concepts or challenges with you when they arise.”

Pol Sorquist, Kindred Kitchen’s operations manger and the maker of Pashen raw food bars, agrees: “Tapping into the networks is a huge value.” Instead of competition among the entrepreneurs who work in incubator kitchens is a strong willingness to support and inspire those who create and want to share what they love with others.  

Resources for food entrepreneurs continue to grow. Homegrown Minneapolis publishes a newsletter that addresses frequently asked questions. The publication also provides information on alternative kitchen spaces nestled in the neighborhoods throughout the city. The City of Saint Paul’s directory of community kitchens includes a map with the location of each kitchen and links to additional information about fees and facilities.

Anne Jin Soo Preston is an independent consultant for arts and cultural nonprofits. Her last story for
The Line was Barking Up New Businesses: Four Women Unleash Their Creativity for Canines. She is also the owner of Bark Bites Dog Treats, made with organic ingredients, which she started in December 2012.
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