ACEnet Visits Columbus Kitchens

It was a dreary winter day when ACEnet staff visited two shared-use kitchens located in Columbus, Ohio. A mere 70 miles separates Athens from Columbus, with recent highway improvements making the trip just over an hour one-way.

ACEnet Visits Columbus Kitchens

Beautiful murals and decorative pieces throughout the space give The Commissary a welcoming vibe

The Commissary is located northwest of downtown at 1400 Dublin Road and operates as a for-profit business, owned by Kate Djupe. A variety of services are offered at this location; mixed use kitchen space, a bay for food truck parking, ingredient storage and classes ranging from food business 101 to cooking a variety of cuisines.

The enclosed commercial kitchen is divided between a prep-area and baking area, both named after outside investors who were pivotal to launching Kate’s plan for The Commissary. Mozart’s Community Kitchen has 6 prep kitchen stations and offers access to a wide range of equipment like 6, 20, and 40 quart mixers, a dough sheeter, proof box, slicers, grinders and more. The layout provides ample space for tenants to work alongside each other without spillover.

Mozart’s Community Kitchen

Mozart’s Community Kitchen

Stainless steel tables are lined up in rows in the center of the room, with tables around the perimeter housing a variety of equipment like meat slicers and baking equipment. This is currently the area where one meat processing business makes their products and will be launching into wholesale markets over the coming year.

Judy’s Kitchen is where food businesses cook; four hot-line kitchen stations are equipped with hood, 6-burner range, convection and conduction ovens. One station also includes a 12 gallon steam jacketed kettle; another has room under the hood for specialty equipment.

Cooler/freezer storage space for rent

Cooler/freezer storage space for rent

The food truck scene in Columbus is thriving and shows no signs of slowing down. Unless they have a certified commercial kitchen on-board, food trucks need a licensed facility to prepare the food they will sell. The Commissary has a long drive-in bay rented for ingredient and truck storage; 15 spaces are available for rental with 24-hour access, as well as an event and meeting space for tenant use.

Several small-scale meat producers or interested individuals have inquired about renting shared-use space since The Commissary opened its doors in late 2014. So far, only one has approval from the ODA to process meat product to sell to markets. Challenges for these producers include creating appropriate food safety and HACCP plans for their products.

Hand painted drive-in bay for food trucks

Hand painted drive-in bay for food trucks

Kate and ACEnet staff shared on the common challenges food entrepreneurs face,such as inventory sourcing, scaling recipe batches, understanding food regulations, and financial positioning. Currently, The Commissary is developing separate kitchens with anchor tenants or allergy sensitive businesses in mind.

The Commissary also gives back to the community. According to a 2015 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, Ohio ranks third in the nation for families forced to skip meals or eat less because they couldn’t afford to put food on the table. Even when a food bank steps in to provide ingredients, these families likely don’t have pots and pans to cook them in. To become part of the solution, The Commissary is now a drop-off point for Recycle Pots and Pans, which provides for families in need of kitchen equipment so they can assemble nutritious meals at home.

ACEnet Visits Columbus KitchensA 10 minute drive takes us to The Food Fort, a non-profit shared-use kitchen located just east of downtown that has been assisting food entrepreneurs since 2011. The Food Fort is part of the Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI), a state- wide SBA lender that has deployed $21 million in loans since 2004

We hop out of the car into the bitter chill, jogging to the nearest door; immediately noticing a keyless entry system and large windowless doors. After slipping into the brightly-lit kitchen with a kind-hearted entrepreneur, we meet with Terry Traster. Traster has been managing the space for just shy of a year, and has carved time out of his day to take us on a tour of the facility.

Food Access Coordinator Rosemary Roe poses with a commercial grade mixer utilized by tenants at the Food Fort

Food Access Coordinator Rosemary Roe poses with a commercial grade mixer utilized by tenants at the Food Fort

The large warehouse has an enclosed prep and cooking area, however, it also has an array of prep tables available outside the enclosure for businesses that are repackaging and preparing products that don’t need to meet critical control temperature points. During our early afternoon visit, we noticed several businesses prepping a variety of products ranging from chocolates for Valentine’s Day to raw veggies that will be transformed in Krazy Kraut’s live probiotic food. Coolers and freezers were installed as needed in the warehouse, similar to the build-up of infrastructure at ACEnet. These units have temperature sensors that will help guard against loss in the event of a power outage.

Similar to The Commissary, The Food Fort also serves the needs of the city’s food truck operators, renting out food storage space and secure truck parking that is accessible 24/7.

We walk across the parking lot to the newest facility addition. Terry noted that tenants had expressed a need for a shared-use space close to operations that would allow them to connect with potential customers in a professional setting. This newer renovation provides additional storage, allowing entrepreneurs to expand into the warehouse as it becomes necessary.

Food Trucks parked outside the Food Fort

Food Trucks parked outside the Food Fort

As we began our journey back to the hills of Southeast Ohio, we came away with newly forged connections and a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges that face our urban counter-parts. We were able to see how improvements in security and temperature control can play a role in preventing product loss, the important role of kitchen managers and implementing regulations for tenants, opportunities for partnerships and market connections and most importantly, we realized that our kitchen incubator is not alone. Creating a network amongst kitchen incubators will lead to better understanding of the opportunities and challenges that arise in our work of strengthening local food economies.

 

Written by Rosemary Roe, Food Access Coordinator serving ACEnet, Rural Action, and Community Food Initiatives, and Grace Kroeger, AmeriCorps VISTA for ACEnet.