Helping Budding Foodies Through Kitchens on the Cheap

You could talk to any business in the city and hear a familiar lament about high overhead stemming from commercial rents, but for small-scale "food entrepeneurs" who don’t have enough revenue to justify a full-time licensed facility–let alone one equipped with ovens, mixers, and expensive cooking equipment–the problem has an accessible solution, according to a report released today by the Center for an Urban Future, a Manhattan thinktank.

The report urges city to get on the communal kitchen bandwagon by supporting the creation of additional kitchen incubators (small spaces with shared ovens, ranges, and industrial mixers that can be rented when needed) that give small-scale food producers access to affordable space in a licensed commercial kitchen.

A 2007 study for the city’s Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses found that there are more than 900 food production firms in New York City, employing over 16,000 people, along with 2,500 cooks who are self-employed and presumably in need of space.

Nonetheless, there are only four food incubators in the city: Mi Kitchen es su Kitchen in Long Island City rents the 5,000-square-foot training kitchen at the Artisan Baking Center to cooks in eight-hour shifts for around $200 during off-hours; the Womens Housing and Economic Development Corp. operates four, 1,000-square-foot kitchen spaces on the ground floor of a South Bronx housing complex; Kitchen for Hire; and one at Kingsborough Community College in Sheepshead Bay that is only open to registered students.

Together these shared facilities servce only 60 people annually, "a fraction of the demand in a city that boasts a growing number of entrepreneurs who are trying their hand at food manufacturing and catering, from high-end chocolates and gourmet pickles to empanadas and Indian sweets."

One way for the city to promote the concept is to encourage commercial kitchens and bakeries that don’t operate continuously to become "mini-incubators" by renting their space to small businesses during off-hours.

Since even expensive restaurants are grumbling about high food prices lately a little hospitality (at a price) could help off-set some of their overhead as well.