Community kitchen cuts costs for Des Moines chefs
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — As 6-year-old Emma McLean was packing up to leave summer camp this week, she enthusiastically began telling her instructor, Sue Honkamp, about the dinner rolls her grandmother makes for special occasions, most recently on the Fourth of July.
They were the same rolls she, her brother Jack, and seven other campers with the cooking school Real Food 4 Kids had made that morning, along with turkey sliders and pasta primavera loaded with fresh veggies.
The campers made all of Real Food 4 Kids’ meals from scratch using healthy, accessible ingredients. And they were all cooked in the event space and cafe at Kitchen Spaces, a recently opened community kitchen where Real Food 4 Kids and 10 other food-based businesses pay by the hour to use its four commercial kitchens.
The Des Moines Register reports that since August 2019, Bob Mulvihill has been renting Kitchen Spaces to entrepreneurs who are looking to start their small businesses without the huge capital investment needed to own or rent, remodel and staff a building.
Up-front costs for Kitchen Spaces total $700: $400 for a food license from the state and $300 for an annual insurance policy. Renting and equipping a storefront, by comparison, could reach into the tens of thousands of dollars.
“It’s a way for someone without the financial means to try something out,” Mulvihill said.
He started the business after operating a Korean barbecue food truck, Heart and Seoul, and realized that having a commercial-grade stove to cook menu items in bulk would be much easier than relying on the tiny burner he used in the trailer.
Similarly, Honkamp said she started the Real Food 4 Kids children’s cooking classes in her home “just to get a sense of the demand and interest.” As the business grew, however, Honkamp knew she needed an oven big enough to expand her classes — one that could be used to prepare at least 12 servings.
“The space here is great,” she said after Tuesday’s class. “It’s been a good opportunity.”
Like business owners across the country, Honkamp has had to make adjustments during the coronavirus pandemic — halting classes for a few months, creating an online version of her cooking school and limiting the number of children in each class.
But while she’s lost business, she didn’t have to worry about paying rent, utilities, employee salaries and other overhead.
Instead, that falls on Mulvihill and his wife, Renee, who invested about $700,000 remodeling the 3,600-square-foot building at 1139 24th St. in the Drake neighborhood and outfitting it with commercial equipment. The $9-to-$15 hourly rent, depending on length of use and the time of day, goes toward that investment and other costs associated with the business.
Each of the four kitchens is equipped with a fridge, food prep and handwashing sinks, a commercial range and two convection ovens.
The front kitchen, where Real Food 4 Kids works, can serve as a storefront of sorts. Clients can place their sign in the window, and can outfit it to seat up to 32 diners.
Last week, a client hosted a pop-up dinner in the space, decorating it as the operators would imagine their own building to look.
On the weekends, Bagelaire and Bubble Tea Kups split time there, selling bagels and bubble tea out of the storefront during their designated rental times.
“So it’s like their own place,” Mulvihill said.
In a typical year, Pat Chan, who owns Bubble Tea Kups, would sell her tea at the World Food & Music Festival, CelebrAsian and other gatherings throughout Iowa. But with COVID-19 putting most festivals on pause, Chan had to find another way to keep her business going. She started using Kitchen Spaces in May.
“Everything just came into place very quickly, which is wonderful. Kitchen Spaces is absolutely the perfect place, because if you were going to open a restaurant, it would take a lot of time and a lot of money,” she said. “I think this is the best thing that ever happened in the restaurant business, for entrepreneurs to start an idea and as you get popular and you grow you can move to your own place if you need to.”
Renting the Kitchen Spaces storefront is much cheaper than getting a booth at a festival, Chan said.
A booth is typically $1,000 for the weekend “and if it rains, you’re done,” she said. The storefront at Kitchen Spaces is less than $300 for the weekend.
If things continue going well, she plans to keep Bubble Tea Kups at Kitchen Spaces, as well as participate in festivals as they return.
For Pentico Bros. Catering, using Kitchen Spaces seemed like a no-brainer, said Ryan Pentico, who owns the business with his brother, Trevor.
As a new business, they plan to cater up to eight events this year and 15 next year. Having their own kitchen, or outfitting their home kitchen at an estimated $10,000, would be nearly impossible with the volume of clients, Pentico said.
“We need that community model to be able to have any profit,” he said. “It’s almost a necessity for our business model.”
Both Bubble Tea Kups and Pentico Bros. Catering also are renting the kitchens to cook meals for local charities providing food for families in need during the pandemic.
The concept of community kitchens has been around since the early 2000s, but it has only recently made its way to the Des Moines metro.
While Kitchen Spaces is the only for-profit community kitchen in the metro, two others, both nonprofit organizations, have been in operation for several years.
The shared-use kitchen at the Mickle Center, 1620 Pleasant St., opened in 2016 just as Des Moines was considering a rule that would require mobile vendors to prep all food in a certified commercial kitchen. That rule was never enacted.
Last year, owners of The Hall at the Foundry in West Des Moines opened The Kitchen DSM, a community kitchen with four stations, a full-service bakery and a classroom instruction area. The space can be rented by entrepreneurs and caterers and is staffed by a team of at-risk, disenfranchised and homeless youth ages 18-24 as part of the Justice League of Food’s job training program.