Kitchen rental businesses heat up
By Joe Bel Bruno, The Associated Press
04/08/2008 07:42:55 PM PDT

What pushed Priscilla Maddox was the relentless smell of vanilla.

Maddox was toying with launching a cookie line after retiring from her
36-year hospital care job, but was overwhelmed by the vanilla smell in
her apartment. When she couldn't find a kitchen to rent, she started a
rent-a-kitchen that has become a small-business incubator for everyone
from a fudge maker to a twosome baking gourmet dog food.

"Now we call ourselves missionaries because we're helping people
following their dreams," Maddox said.

Kitchen For Hire, the Brooklyn-based business she opened in 2000 with
partner Joan Reid put Maddox's cookie line dream on hold. The women set
up in a cramped storefront that was previously home to a number of
restaurants that never seemed able to stay in business. And for the past
eight years, the 10-burner stove, refrigerators, freezers and mixers
they inherited from the previous tenant are being put to good use.

Across the country, from Austin to Los Angeles to Chicago, renting
commercial kitchens by the hour has become a cottage industry. And as
the nation's economy has begun to weaken, many newly unemployed home
cooks are looking to those kitchens for a new line of work.

The kitchen rental companies are a for-profit spin on an already
well-tested idea. Food-business incubators, many affiliated with
universities and non-profits, help farmers and entrepreneurs with
business development plans, market research and in some Advertisement
cases manufacturing.

For those that come to Kitchen For Hire, be prepared to get a big
serving of advice before you're allowed to turn on the oven. Maddox is
not shy about telling potential customers that their business strategy
isn't right, labels aren't catchy enough, or the food just isn't
marketable.

At least that's what happened to Amanda Jones, who first approached
Kitchen For Hire about two years ago with the idea of starting a fudge
company.

"They refused to rent to me at first because they thought I wasn't
ready," Jones said. "Turns out they were dead on. They gave me advice,
and helped me develop the product."

But, that doesn't mean running your own business is easy. Jones comes
into the kitchen a few times a week during slower periods - and most
every day around the holidays - spending about five hours putting
together some 420 pieces of fudge with flavors like "Wasabi Pecan" and
"Orange Almond."

Jones is probably among the more successful of Maddox and Reid's
customers - which have in the past covered everything from bottlers of
Jamaican hot sauce to aspiring beef jerky makers.

"Priscilla and Joan didn't have it easy coming up the way they did, and
they are really all about giving back," she said.

Maddox and Reid spent $60,000 of their own savings to open their
business, which is also open to families who want to cook for events
such as weddings or family reunions, along with fledgling entrepreneurs.
They have a few dozen regular customers, and even more before holidays.

Customers at most kitchens spend about $20 per hour to rent the space,
and in many cases need to purchase insurance that could run a few
hundred dollars per year. Jones spends about $25 an hour for the kitchen
rental, and product and kitchen insurance is about $600 a year.

"Its a 24/7 operation," said Alexis Leverenz, who opened Kitchen Chicago
after leaving Wall Street investment bank Merrill Lynch with dreams of
starting her own business. "People come in here at all times of the day
and night, and it is thrilling to watch them trying to start their own
businesses. They are fascinating people."

One reason that shared-use kitchens are picking up in popularity is that
those looking to start a food-related business can't do it at home.

Federal, state and local laws make it illegal to use home kitchens to
produce most kinds of food for sale. Some states have exemptions, but
for the most part the production of food for a business must be done in
a licensed kitchen that is regularly inspected.

Leverenz said she has a constant stream of interest since opening three
years ago, and has even gotten some calls from people interested in
starting their own rental kitchens.

One such telephone call helped convince Soraiya Nagree in Austin to
strike out on her own. She and her husband opened Kitchen Space about
four months ago in a 2,100 square-foot building they bought in the East
Austin area.

They've outfitted Kitchen Space with three main areas - a demonstration
kitchen, catering kitchen, and a baking kitchen - all with stainless
steel appliances for the few dozen customers that have already signed
on. They also introduced a bit of technology to the concept, allowing
customers to schedule their kitchen time online and opening up an
adjacent center where e-mail and other business can be done.

"This place really does run itself," she said. "For us it's a business,
but for others it's an incubator for their own business dreams. It all
kind of meets here."her apartment. When she couldn't find a kitchen to
rent, she started a rent-a-kitchen that has become a small-business
incubator for everyone from a fudge maker to a twosome baking gourmet
dog food.

"Now we call ourselves missionaries because we're helping people
following their dreams," Maddox said.

Kitchen For Hire, the Brooklyn-based business she opened in 2000 with
partner Joan Reid put Maddox's cookie line dream on hold. The women set
up in a cramped storefront that was previously home to a number of
restaurants that never seemed able to stay in business. And for the past
eight years, the 10-burner stove, refrigerators, freezers and mixers
they inherited from the previous tenant are being put to good use.

Across the country, from Austin to Los Angeles to Chicago, renting
commercial kitchens by the hour has become a cottage industry. And as
the nation's economy has begun to weaken, many newly unemployed home
cooks are looking to those kitchens for a new line of work.

The kitchen rental companies are a for-profit spin on an already
well-tested idea. Food-business incubators, many affiliated with
universities and non-profits, help farmers and entrepreneurs with
business development plans, market research and in some Advertisement
cases manufacturing.

For those that come to Kitchen For Hire, be prepared to get a big
serving of advice before you're allowed to turn on the oven. Maddox is
not shy about telling potential customers that their business strategy
isn't right, labels aren't catchy enough, or the food just isn't
marketable.

At least that's what happened to Amanda Jones, who first approached
Kitchen For Hire about two years ago with the idea of starting a fudge
company.

"They refused to rent to me at first because they thought I wasn't
ready," Jones said. "Turns out they were dead on. They gave me advice,
and helped me develop the product."

But, that doesn't mean running your own business is easy. Jones comes
into the kitchen a few times a week during slower periods - and most
every day around the holidays - spending about five hours putting
together some 420 pieces of fudge with flavors like "Wasabi Pecan" and
"Orange Almond."

Jones is probably among the more successful of Maddox and Reid's
customers - which have in the past covered everything from bottlers of
Jamaican hot sauce to aspiring beef jerky makers.

"Priscilla and Joan didn't have it easy coming up the way they did, and
they are really all about giving back," she said.

Maddox and Reid spent $60,000 of their own savings to open their
business, which is also open to families who want to cook for events
such as weddings or family reunions, along with fledgling entrepreneurs.
They have a few dozen regular customers, and even more before holidays.

Customers at most kitchens spend about $20 per hour to rent the space,
and in many cases need to purchase insurance that could run a few
hundred dollars per year. Jones spends about $25 an hour for the kitchen
rental, and product and kitchen insurance is about $600 a year.

"Its a 24/7 operation," said Alexis Leverenz, who opened Kitchen Chicago
after leaving Wall Street investment bank Merrill Lynch with dreams of
starting her own business. "People come in here at all times of the day
and night, and it is thrilling to watch them trying to start their own
businesses. They are fascinating people."

One reason that shared-use kitchens are picking up in popularity is that
those looking to start a food-related business can't do it at home.

Federal, state and local laws make it illegal to use home kitchens to
produce most kinds of food for sale. Some states have exemptions, but
for the most part the production of food for a business must be done in
a licensed kitchen that is regularly inspected.

Leverenz said she has a constant stream of interest since opening three
years ago, and has even gotten some calls from people interested in
starting their own rental kitchens.

One such telephone call helped convince Soraiya Nagree in Austin to
strike out on her own. She and her husband opened Kitchen Space about
four months ago in a 2,100 square-foot building they bought in the East
Austin area.

They've outfitted Kitchen Space with three main areas - a demonstration
kitchen, catering kitchen, and a baking kitchen - all with stainless
steel appliances for the few dozen customers that have already signed
on. They also introduced a bit of technology to the concept, allowing
customers to schedule their kitchen time online and opening up an
adjacent center where e-mail and other business can be done.

"This place really does run itself," she said. "For us it's a business,
but for others it's an incubator for their own business dreams. It all
kind of meets here."

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