When Sophia Chang started a small organic ice cream business about six years ago, she was shocked that she couldn't find an affordable commercial kitchen to make her batches for the farmers market. All the commercial kitchens were about $40/hour and required minimums of somewhere around 60 hours/month.
At the time, Chang was staying at her mom's house and using the kitchen, which she acknowledges you're not supposed to do under commercial food regulations. The whole thing "was not a good set-up," she said.
When she had to shut down abruptly after eight months, she just kept thinking about how hard it was to get off the ground as a food business. "I kept thinking why aren't there kitchens that will help businesses," she said.
She thought about it when she went to work as the production manager for Teacake Bake Shop, running their online shipping warehouse. And, she thought about it some more when Teacake downsized and the owner asked her if she'd like to take over the space, just off Broadway in the Lake Merritt-Uptown neighborhood of Oakland.
That was the birth of Kitchener Oakland, a commercial community kitchen that provides kitchen space for small local food businesses at cheaper rates -- $13-20/hour instead of $25-40/hour. Costs are kept low by having the kitchen shared among up to four different chefs, bakers or juicers at one time. But, Kitchener also goes a bit further: the space hosts monthly pop-up markets to allow the food-makers to sell their goods and puts on workshops or seminars to help the food-makers learn the business and, hopefully, move into a permanent location.
There are 36 different artisans using Kitchener currently and about 50-55 have been in the space over the year-and-a-half since it opened in June 2012. Six of those have been able to move into their own kitchens.