Q: What is your business or organizational legal structure?
A: Farm Kitchen is an incorporated business licensed as an S-Corporation. As such, our requirements and policies differ from non-profits and community-based organizations. Our business vision, however, is to share the land and facility resource with others by creating a community work space that is shared cooperatively among diverse users.
Q: What type of feasibility study was done for you, or how did you develop your business plan?
A: Drawing on the backgrounds of the Farm Kitchen owners, we developed our own feasibility study and business plan. As we developed our plan, one of our principals had more than 12 years experience in creating a thriving local bakery from the ground up, and the other had more than 15 years experience in small business development, management and marketing.
Q: How many square feet of kitchen space do you have?
A: The total commercial kitchen space is 1212 sq ft. This includes 2 main rooms, each with an outside access door. In the kitchen are multiple work spaces, cook line with stoves and ovens, multiple sinks, 3 storage rooms, a mop closet, a restroom, a 10’ x 11’ walk-in refrigerator and a 10’ x 11’ walk-in freezer.
Q: What are your hours of operation?
A: We make our space available generally between 6am and 9:30pm daily. Time is scheduled by users via an online calendar on a first-come, first-served basis. The kitchen manager monitors the signups so that multiple uses will be compatible, depending on the number of workers each kitchen user will bring on a given day.
Q: What equipment do you provide?
A: We have a general list of the main equipment on our website in the Rental Kitchen information, at www.farmkitchen.com In addition to the general items, we have a Hobart food chopper, Cuisinart, cutting boards, metal bowls and colanders. Kitchen users supply their own knives and specialty tools, towels, sheet pan papers, storage containers, etc.
Q: How many cubic feet of freezer/cooler/shelf space do you make available to your clientele?
A: Our walk-in refrigerator is 10’ x 11’, or 110 square feet, offering about 60’ linear shelf feet of space + room for 4-6 rolling racks as well. In our 10’ x11’ walk-in freezer, about half the space (60 sq. ft.) is available for clients’ use.
Q: How do you monitor use of the facility?
A: We monitor kitchen users by interaction and in formal tracking:
- In Person: We are onsite most of the time and interact with all the kitchen users daily. For those who work at times we are not present, we make a point of checking in with them regularly.
- Via Forms completed by users: Our Check in/Out sheet includes a daily cleanup list and a place for walk-in refrigerator and freezer temps to be recorded. This keeps a paper trail and also keeps kitchen users looking at the tools of their trade.
- Each kitchen user completes the local Health Department commissary kitchen user log during each use of the kitchen.
Q: Of your available hours and available kitchen space, what is your occupancy/utilization rate?
A: While many locations nationwide have developed kitchens because they recognized a community need, the process of acquainting renters with your space will take some time. Local regulatory requirements particular to your area will also influence utilization.
Requests for use fluctuate seasonally, often high in the spring as individuals consider participating in local Farmers’ Markets and festivals. It is not unusual to field 10 inquiries for 1 signing on to regularly use the kitchen. We are in a rural area, with few other actively managed rental kitchens available in the Puget Sound area west of Seattle. Our kitchen is presently used approximately 70-75% of the available time.
Q: Other than food preparation, what other uses are made of your commercial kitchen?
A: While our kitchen calendar is filled with our roster of kitchen clients, many commercial kitchens offer cooking classes, cooking class/ dinner party combinations, and canning and food preservation classes.
Q: Is there citizen access to the facility for education or processing food for personal or group use?
A: Educational cooking and baking classes have been offered in the past during the school year in quarterly sessions. Clients preferred hands-on, active learning experiences taught by experienced chefs and bakers. These can be offered for both individuals and groups. Business and affinity groups might also arrange to have private classes.
Food processing is done in our kitchen by individuals who have a business license and food-handling training and certification, and by groups that have food handler permits.
Q: How do you market your commercial kitchen?
A: We market our availability in as many ways as possible and cost-effective, including
- Provide details about the kitchen rental requirements and rates on our own website.
- Websites that publicize commercial kitchens, among others: www.commercialkitchenforrent.com, www.culinaryincubator.com, thefoodcorridor.com, thekitchendoor.com
- Network locally to build viral marketing
- Talk to your local Farmers Markets to let them know you exist. Regulations in our area require that food vendors there must use an approved kitchen for preparation of their product.
- People cooking for Bazaars, Community Bake Sales etc. need a kitchen. Check in with the organizers.
- Sometimes churches or schools need access to commercial kitchens, if their own kitchens are not approved kitchens for their benefit dinners or events.
- Reach out to local caterers who may need additional work space.
- Talk with your local Health Department and give them all your information. We keep in close contact with this group. We sometimes meet with potential clients who begin the registration process with us in an attempt to win Health Department approval; then later we learn that they are making product at home or in some other unapproved kitchen. We see it as good business practice to keep our local caterers, market food people on the up and up and competing on the same playing field when they price their products for sale.
Q: Is the kitchen paying for itself?
A: Each rental kitchen facility’s business plan will vary according to the location, size of facility, and overhead required to initially provide and then maintain the facility and equipment for multiple users. In the framework of the demographics of our rural community and our facility located on a multi-acre property, the kitchen rental fees alone are only a portion of our entire budget.
Q: Do you provide any additional consulting, business development or marketing services to your clientele beyond the kitchen itself?
A: We offer direct consulting services and a business marketplace to our clients.
- In the areas of product development and implementation, business development, production planning, marketing and business communications, we offer a two-tiered approach.
- As part of building our relationship with our clients, we offer them initial food-business design & marketing guidance that might alternately be offered in a separate billable-hours consultancy.
- If they have extensive recipe design, production development or business research & marketing questions, we offer our services in these areas at an hourly rate.
- We also provide our clients with access to new business contacts and business to business relationships with caterers and other food producers. Those who have a strong interest in building their business are most apt to take advantage of these introductions.
- As requested, we offer more in-depth technical consulting for market research and web development services they may need, as well.
Q: Are there any lessons learned that you would like to pass on to someone considering getting started in the kitchen incubator business?
A: Often the person with a product has not sufficiently tested the market concept for their product and does not have a detailed concept of what their market is. They may have only home-cooking experience, and limited exposure to the business elements of large-scale production. When faced with the question where and who they will be selling their product to and why it is marketable, they may retreat from the startup process. We have found that many who express initial interest do not have the drive or vision to follow through to develop a food business. We feel it’s best for them to answer a couple of those hard questions when they come see our kitchen as it makes them really think about the costs, possibilities & time demands necessary to grow a successful food business.
We also find that many potential users have a passion for cooking or baking, but little or no formal business experience. The concept of pricing a product or analyzing what it costs to produce their product for the marketplace may be foreign. Many approach food production like a hobby rather than a business. We find that we need to help many potential clients understand the business reality of accounting for rental of kitchen space as a necessary part of their business expense matrix. Our experience in small business development and market research provides helpful background as we discuss business development with our clients.