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Chocolate in a shared kitchen space?


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Is it really possible to run a chocolate business out of a shared kitchen space? I’d love to hear your experiences (good and bad). What were the challenges? What helped things to work? Size? Who do/did you share with? What products do/did you offer?
 

We were all ready to have contractors come out and bid on a production/retail location and then COVID hit and the world changed. Trying to brainstorm how to continue moving forward. 

Edited by Pastrypastmidnight (log)
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I shared kitchen space for the first 15 years I was in business, specializing in cake/cupcake/desserts (no bread, no breakfast pastries, no confections).  A lot of what works and what doesn't depends on the type of kitchen you are sharing with (a coffee shop or restaurant has different "cycles" or rhythm than a catering operation or a corporate cafeteria kitchen that serves an office building and these are all different to a church kitchen, for example).

 

Who you approach will differ in terms of what they are willing to do.  In a time of Covid, places may be more amenable to sharing a kitchen because now you're sharing the expenses (such as utilities, pest control, trash removal) but then they have to make room for you - to store your ingredients, equipment, paper goods.  You also have to know whether the powers that be (Board of Health, Select Board, the bureaucrats) will allow two food businesses to share a single kitchen (in my years of looking for space to share, I encountered one city that would not allow two businesses to share kitchen space; I found a caterer who had two other businesses sharing their small kitchen and it was utter chaos - I walked away from that).

 

Figure out what kind of space you need to work in (how much table space, refrigeration space, storage space) so you don't waste your time or someone else's while you search.  Maybe go with a limited product line for a year.  Do not expect a long term relationship; if it works, it will play itself out like that.  Tell prospects you already  have business insurance, your ServSafe and Allergy certs and this will alleviate any fears they  may have.  And for those who might be trying to get around the rules, it shows you are serious about your own business.  One place I talked ten years ago was going to have me work in an area that was *carpeted* (!) and charge me $1500/month - because I was going to be using the equivalent of 25 sf of space in his cooler and his cooler was on 24/7 (it would have been, regardless of whether he was renting space or not!)

 

There are more opportunities these days in the form of incubator kitchens (which are expensive to rent by the hour) other kitchens designed to help launch food businesses and on social media to advertise that you are looking for space to share, or for someone to share your space; so leave no stone unturned.  Ask your local BoH or kitchen supply store if they know of anyone who wants help with their rent or mortgage; ask at church kitchens (there is a church in my town that has a spectacularly outfitted commercial kitchen because they put on a 3 day food festival that draws hundreds and for that week, it is worth it for them to have such an amazing kitchen.  While they were interested in sharing it, the town wouldn't allow it :(

 

Good luck!

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As Jeanne said, much depends on the kitchen itself and who else is in it. 

 

Commissaries can be too much of a free-for all, see if they have set stations and set schedules or if anyone can come in and crank up all the ovens and a big pot of stock at any time.  Refrigeration is a big concern, you probably don't want to share a walk-in cooler with someone else's salami, kimchi, gorgonzola, roasted garlic, etc. 

 

I have my own kitchen now and I love it but it's still not perfect.  No AC and a west window means it sucks in the summer, I made a few chocolate bars the other day by putting them directly into the fridge at every stage but chocolate production season is otherwise over until September.  I have two tenants, a baker and a personal chef.  Since there are only 3 of us it's not too hard to coordinate who needs the oven but it's really best when only 2 of us are there at a time. 

 

 

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You could do a public records search of the people you intend to contract (lease) with, including the landlord. If they've been overly-involved in landlord-tenant issues, TROs, etc., I'd think twice about them.

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A lot of kitchens aren't very compatible with chocolate work. Too hot, humid,  and too many ambient food odors like garlic, onions, etc. I'd inquire with local ice cream shops. I know someone who was able to start out sharing a space with a small ice cream business.  Where I live, this is an ideal situation since chocolate season starts ramping up when ice cream season winds down. 

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On 7/15/2020 at 10:16 AM, Metztli said:

A lot of kitchens aren't very compatible with chocolate work. Too hot, humid,  and too many ambient food odors like garlic, onions, etc. I'd inquire with local ice cream shops. I know someone who was able to start out sharing a space with a small ice cream business.  Where I live, this is an ideal situation since chocolate season starts ramping up when ice cream season winds down. 

 

This is a great suggestion; and I would add that sometimes ice cream businesses are licensed differently/separately from other food businesses.  Check the BoH page of the town you are looking at to see if this is the case.  In our town, ice cream shops are limited to April-October operations - they can't be open from Nov 1 to March 30 (I don't know why).  I mention it because even though the fees are likely to be different, the requirements for a different type of food business sharing ice cream shop space *might* require some additional stuff (again, not sure what, but you learn to expect the unexpected in life).

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On 7/14/2020 at 5:01 PM, JeanneCake said:

I shared kitchen space for the first 15 years I was in business, specializing in cake/cupcake/desserts (no bread, no breakfast pastries, no confections).  A lot of what works and what doesn't depends on the type of kitchen you are sharing with (a coffee shop or restaurant has different "cycles" or rhythm than a catering operation or a corporate cafeteria kitchen that serves an office building and these are all different to a church kitchen, for example).

 

Who you approach will differ in terms of what they are willing to do.  In a time of Covid, places may be more amenable to sharing a kitchen because now you're sharing the expenses (such as utilities, pest control, trash removal) but then they have to make room for you - to store your ingredients, equipment, paper goods.  You also have to know whether the powers that be (Board of Health, Select Board, the bureaucrats) will allow two food businesses to share a single kitchen (in my years of looking for space to share, I encountered one city that would not allow two businesses to share kitchen space; I found a caterer who had two other businesses sharing their small kitchen and it was utter chaos - I walked away from that).

 

Figure out what kind of space you need to work in (how much table space, refrigeration space, storage space) so you don't waste your time or someone else's while you search.  Maybe go with a limited product line for a year.  Do not expect a long term relationship; if it works, it will play itself out like that.  Tell prospects you already  have business insurance, your ServSafe and Allergy certs and this will alleviate any fears they  may have.  And for those who might be trying to get around the rules, it shows you are serious about your own business.  One place I talked ten years ago was going to have me work in an area that was *carpeted* (!) and charge me $1500/month - because I was going to be using the equivalent of 25 sf of space in his cooler and his cooler was on 24/7 (it would have been, regardless of whether he was renting space or not!)

 

There are more opportunities these days in the form of incubator kitchens (which are expensive to rent by the hour) other kitchens designed to help launch food businesses and on social media to advertise that you are looking for space to share, or for someone to share your space; so leave no stone unturned.  Ask your local BoH or kitchen supply store if they know of anyone who wants help with their rent or mortgage; ask at church kitchens (there is a church in my town that has a spectacularly outfitted commercial kitchen because they put on a 3 day food festival that draws hundreds and for that week, it is worth it for them to have such an amazing kitchen.  While they were interested in sharing it, the town wouldn't allow it :(

 

Good luck!

Thank you so much for your thoughts and advice! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to post and then just disappear. I really appreciate you taking the time—so many good and important things to consider!

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On 7/14/2020 at 6:53 PM, pastrygirl said:

As Jeanne said, much depends on the kitchen itself and who else is in it. 

 

Commissaries can be too much of a free-for all, see if they have set stations and set schedules or if anyone can come in and crank up all the ovens and a big pot of stock at any time.  Refrigeration is a big concern, you probably don't want to share a walk-in cooler with someone else's salami, kimchi, gorgonzola, roasted garlic, etc. 

 

I have my own kitchen now and I love it but it's still not perfect.  No AC and a west window means it sucks in the summer, I made a few chocolate bars the other day by putting them directly into the fridge at every stage but chocolate production season is otherwise over until September.  I have two tenants, a baker and a personal chef.  Since there are only 3 of us it's not too hard to coordinate who needs the oven but it's really best when only 2 of us are there at a time. 

 

 

Thank you! There is an culinary incubator in the next town over and that’s where everyone is suggesting I go, and you can schedule your times to work. But I’m in one of the bbq capitals of the country and it’s a pretty open space. I just worry about the heat and the smells. There is one gluten-free space that’s closed off (I’d have to make sure I’m not using gluten in any of my products) and might work a bit better. I’m just so used to being able to semi-control the temperature, leave things to crystallize, go grab something if I forget it. The logistics of a space where I cart stuff in and out all the time feels daunting. 

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On 7/15/2020 at 9:16 AM, Metztli said:

A lot of kitchens aren't very compatible with chocolate work. Too hot, humid,  and too many ambient food odors like garlic, onions, etc. I'd inquire with local ice cream shops. I know someone who was able to start out sharing a space with a small ice cream business.  Where I live, this is an ideal situation since chocolate season starts ramping up when ice cream season winds down. 

This is my exact concern. I hadn’t thought about an ice cream kitchen. Mostly because my plan for a retail space was to do chocolate and ice cream to off-set each other. I’ll think about this suggestion some more. Thank you!

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On 7/17/2020 at 5:36 AM, JeanneCake said:

 

This is a great suggestion; and I would add that sometimes ice cream businesses are licensed differently/separately from other food businesses.  Check the BoH page of the town you are looking at to see if this is the case.  In our town, ice cream shops are limited to April-October operations - they can't be open from Nov 1 to March 30 (I don't know why).  I mention it because even though the fees are likely to be different, the requirements for a different type of food business sharing ice cream shop space *might* require some additional stuff (again, not sure what, but you learn to expect the unexpected in life).

Yes, that is a concern. I tried to call my local department of environmental health to ask about licensing and if ice cream would need to be in a separate production space and did not get any answers. She basically told me I’d have to have the space first (built out) and then someone would inspect and determine if it met the requirements (insert eye roll). Thanks for the heads-up!

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1 hour ago, Pastrypastmidnight said:

Yes, that is a concern. I tried to call my local department of environmental health to ask about licensing and if ice cream would need to be in a separate production space and did not get any answers. She basically told me I’d have to have the space first (built out) and then someone would inspect and determine if it met the requirements (insert eye roll). Thanks for the heads-up!


Here in WA they are extra strict about pasteurization of ice cream production so most shops use a pre-made base. But the previous tenant of my kitchen made scratch ice cream and was sharing with a craft soda maker and then me. (We had all met at a previous commissary that declined after a sale. Tried other kitchens then reunited). If you do make ice cream, be prepared to detail your pasteurization and cooling methods. 
 

If you’re doing low volume or significant wholesale you might be better off with department of agriculture food producer licensing. Does your state have a cottage food act?  A WSDA cottage food license is under $100, I do a little higher volume so my food producer license was about $150, vs $900 a year when I was licensed as a caterer by the county health dept. $800 makes a difference to a small biz!  One of my tenants is licensed under cottage food due to size even though it’s a commercial kitchen  , so that’s not only for home cooking. 

 

Each company in a shared kitchen is licensed and inspected individually so unless you go with the gluten free space it shouldn’t matter what other tenants are doing. Licensing wise, that is. 🤪

Edited by pastrygirl (log)
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5 hours ago, pastrygirl said:


Here in WA they are extra strict about pasteurization of ice cream production so most shops use a pre-made base. But the previous tenant of my kitchen made scratch ice cream and was sharing with a craft soda maker and then me. (We had all met at a previous commissary that declined after a sale. Tried other kitchens then reunited). If you do make ice cream, be prepared to detail your pasteurization and cooling methods. 
 

If you’re doing low volume or significant wholesale you might be better off with department of agriculture food producer licensing. Does your state have a cottage food act?  A WSDA cottage food license is under $100, I do a little higher volume so my food producer license was about $150, vs $900 a year when I was licensed as a caterer by the county health dept. $800 makes a difference to a small biz!  One of my tenants is licensed under cottage food due to size even though it’s a commercial kitchen  , so that’s not only for home cooking. 

 

Each company in a shared kitchen is licensed and inspected individually so unless you go with the gluten free space it shouldn’t matter what other tenants are doing. Licensing wise, that is. 🤪

 

Cottage food in my state is extremely limited. Can’t sell online or out of state, can’t accept payment online, very low threshold for sales, etc. 

 

Thank you for all the input and information!

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Racing Chocs just relocated from a home based operation to a shared kitchen setup as part of my expansion plans. Luckily I've moved in with another chocolate business who owns the industrial unit outright but were just using the second floor as office and storage space. Basically I've built a 3m x 3m air-conditioned room upstairs in which all my airbrushing takes place, since the other chocolatier doesn't really do any of that, I also have around 50% of the remaining upstairs space for office and storage and use the air conditioned kitchen downstairs for chocolate work. So far its been working out well, but I'm a bit concerned come Christmas when we are both flat out.

 

I have my own tables, ingredients, Selmi's and production equipment downstairs. We are both Level 5 rated food businesses and were previously inspected by the the same local council. We have not yet been inspected since our relocation.

 

Hopefully it all turns out.

 

Good luck in your search!

 

Matthew 

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