Take Your Shared Kitchen to New Heights This Fall

We’re launching into a new season, and while you pack away your summer sandals, you may be brainstorming new ways to take your shared kitchen to new heights this Fall. You may be looking for new programming opportunities or special uses for your kitchen space. Here, we’ll cover 3 opportunities to consider this Fall. These opportunities have the potential to expand the revenue streams of your shared kitchen while also supporting the community at large. This information comes straight from the Shared Kitchen Toolkit.

Incubation Services and Business Classes

Incubation services are designed to help food entrepreneurs launch, manage, and grow businesses. If your project is focused on growing businesses and creating jobs, offering incubation services can advance these goals. Incubators provide a wide range of advising and education services from business planning, to product development, to sales. Education and advising services are often delivered through a combination of one-on-one coaching, group classes, workshops, and mentoring sessions. These services often require additional staff and networks of mentors to administer. Leveraging partnerships and volunteers can help you offer a robust program while retaining limited staff.

Incubators are increasingly participating in building market opportunities for program participants through a host of activities including coordinating distribution services, facilitating retail markets, forging buyer/broker relationships, and promoting businesses at trade shows and events. Union Kitchen in Washington, D.C., has developed a complete suite of promotion, distribution, and retail services. Additionally, some programs offer capital and financial services, including microloans, pitch sessions with investors, crowdfunding campaign support, and relationships with accountants and financial advisors. Often, incubators organize networking events to cultivate a sense of community among their participants. Some incubators focus their services on underserved populations as a way to build opportunities for populations facing barriers to entering the food industry. La Cocina in San Francisco is a leading program that serves low-income entrepreneurs with a focus on women of color and immigrant communities.

An increasing number of accelerator programs are being developed by incubators and other groups to help businesses with strong growth potential become investor ready. These programs differ from incubators in that they are more selective, time-limited, and intensive. Typically they offer an investment opportunity or a pitch session with investors.

The article “No Two Incubators Think Alike” illustrates the diversity of approaches to incubation services among kitchens. It is vital that incubation services be tailored to the needs of the community and developed in the context of the larger entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

Community and Food Safety Classes

Shared kitchens are hosting an ever-growing list of classes for food-lovers, food businesses, and general community members. Classes are a wonderful way to increase revenue, diversify your rentals, and expand kitchen awareness within the community. Depending on their level of expertise, kitchen management or employees can facilitate cooking classes, health and nutrition classes, and food safety classes. Alternatively, courses can be developed and facilitated in collaboration with partners in your community from the local Small Business Development Center, health department, college, university, Cooperative Extension Service, or nonprofit agencies. If managed well, classes can be profitable, but they also require significant resources to organize and host. So, be sure to think through all the following:

  • Who will teach the class? If your staff does not have the time or credentials to do this, reach out to local organizations who may be able to help.
  • How much will you charge? Are there food, rental, or equipment supply costs to consider?
  • How much will you profit after cost of materials, space rental, planning time, and instructor fees?
  • How will you evaluate the class?

Culinary Programs and Cooking Classes

Shared kitchens can be an excellent venue for culinary programs run by the community or by local high schools and trade schools that lack their own facilities. Culinary programs can sometimes serve as recurring, or anchor, tenants that commit to pay a set monthly fee for designated blocks of rental time in the kitchen. Because of group size and noise considerations, they often require exclusive use of a kitchen area or classroom. In addition, programs may use a meeting or conference room for instruction. General cooking classes for consumers are an increasingly popular aspect of shared kitchen programming. Cooking classes can be tailored to special group events, holidays, seasonal produce availability, special diets, ethnic cuisines, special cooking techniques or tools, or themes such as quick and easy weeknight meals or date night.

Including a teaching or studio kitchen in your facility can help you accommodate both community- or chef-hosted cooking classes and culinary programs. While classes can be held in the general production kitchen, instructors may prefer working in a teaching or demo kitchen with an island that allows the attendees to stand around the counter or range for viewing and participation in addition to working at their own table stations. A mounted camera and display screen can enhance the experience by giving everyone a clear view of the action. If you are interested in attracting cooking classes or partnering with a culinary program, you will want to interview cooking instructors to understand their ideal class size, workflow, preferred set up, and technology requirements. A trial run always helps to ensure the event runs smoothly.

Cooking Block in Redlands, California, provides a variety of cooking classes for adults, children, and area charter schools, including a Knife Skills Series, Practical Food Science, Kids Patisserie, World Street Food, and Sushi and Sake Party.

Health and Nutrition Classes

With the rise in diet-related diseases like obesity and diabetes, the need for community health and nutrition classes is paramount. An increasing number of shared kitchens are focusing on the goal of improving community health. Your kitchen may be an ideal venue to host and teach cooking skills and recipe adaptations for dietary restrictions, general health, and weight loss. These classes can help community members maintain a healthier lifestyle while bringing additional revenue to the kitchen.

It may be advantageous to partner with local health organizations, public health departments, low-income outreach programs, food banks, or university or college nutrition, dietetics, and culinary programs to develop and facilitate health and nutrition classes. Additionally, there may be grants or public funds available to subsidize kitchen time or programming. Private instructors focused on niche diets may also be interested in renting the kitchen for their own classes or seminars.

Food Safety Classes

Food safety education is integral to kitchen success because every renter requires some level of food safety training. Offering classes and trainings is not only a potential revenue stream but an opportunity to improve public health and educate the food industry job force. The level of training and certification required for business owners and workers varies depending on the jurisdiction. Before offering services, research licensing requirements and existing food safety certification providers to evaluate the need for training. New national food safety regulations require that retail food establishments employ at least one Certified Food Protection Manager, and the certification can only be obtained by taking an accredited exam administered by a Certified Proctor or Testing Center. Partnerships with the local health department could connect you to a Certified Proctor in your community or deem your location as an official Testing Center.

Chiknegg Incubator Kitchen in Goochland, Virginia, offers a ServSafe® Food Handler class as well as a ServSafe® Food Protection Manager Certification course. Chiknegg is building their community’s capacity to make and sell safe foods by offering regular classes on-site and off-site by request.

Co-packing

Co-packing (contract packing) is the outsourcing of the manufacturing and packaging of a product. Sometimes small specialty food producers will take on contract manufacturing or co-packing of products for other brands in the open time they have between their own production runs. Shared kitchens can offer similar services to food companies as an additional revenue stream. Co-packing products for your clients or other food businesses in the area can also be a revenue stream for workforce training programs.

The Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center provides co-packing solutions. Their staff works with entrepreneurs to develop commercial production quantities of products on behalf of businesses, allowing them to focus on building market channels. The corporation also purchases vegetables from local farmers, processes, and freezes them and then sells them to schools in the region.

If a food business is scaling quickly, it may need to find a commercial co-packer to take over production in order to ensure consistency and availability of its product. Food+Tech Connect’s article, “4 Tips for Scaling Your Food Business With a Co-Packer,” sheds some light on the main reasons food entrepreneurs seek out co-packing
services. If you decide not to offer co-packing, it is a good idea to develop relationships with existing co-packers in your area. They can be vital resources for your clients who outgrow the kitchen or are ready to transition to a contract manufacturer.

Whether your kitchen has the ability to co-pack is often dependent upon the type of equipment (bottling line, filler, labeler) and the staff available. Staff must have the necessary food production skills to reliably manufacture the product according to the brand’s specifications. You will want to consider the impact that co-packing has on your available time in the kitchen. Committing too much kitchen time to co-packing may also inhibit the growth of your clients. Completing co-packing runs during off-peak hours may be a valuable way to increase efficiency in your kitchen, but that requires staff to work overnight hours.

You should evaluate the costs and margins carefully to determine if the kitchen will net income from co-packing. Be sure to think through where the finished products will be stored and whether there is room in your facility to accommodate the volume needed to be profitable. You should also work closely with the businesses to make sure there are adequate distribution and market opportunities to move the finished product to retail shelves in a timely fashion.

Looking for more advice on operating your shared kitchen space? Check out our Shared Kitchen Operations Manual.

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