Currently under Florida’s Cottage Food Law, small-volume cooks can make food products to sell that won’t spoil – such as cakes, cookies, breads, candies, pasta, honey, and jellies – using an unlicensed home kitchen. Sales can’t exceed $15,000 annually, and the sales must be made in person – not through a website.
But for those cooks who want to go bigger, and to sell wholesale or over the Internet, the law requires foods to be produced in a licensed commercial kitchen.
So what does a budding ‘’foodpreneur’’ do? Enter the incubator kitchen – a place for the commercial vendor to cook their foods under a license that covers all who use it. It’s typically rented out by the hour, day, week, or month.
It’s more than that, however, and its purpose is defined in The Lexicon of Food: “A true incubator kitchen does not simply offer shared commercial kitchen space, but also an engine for entrance into the marketplace and inspiration for economic and operational self-sufficiency. It identifies barriers to entry, whether they be capital, gendered, racial, or language-based; reduces the risks associated; and creates a platform from which truly talented entrepreneurs can grow and thrive.”
In other words, it’s a stepping-stone for a budding food entrepreneur who can’t afford a slew of licenses, let alone a commercial kitchen and all its accoutrements, on their own.
The good news is that we have them all over Florida. Here’s a look at a few.
Orlando: East End Market
Le Cordon Bleu graduate Jessica Tantalo is the chef-in-residence at the East End Market.
In a rustic, high-tech, two-story building that was once a church, the East End Market is a food hub.
It has everything – the top level features business offices, event space, and a demonstration kitchen. Downstairs is an organic garden, as well as retail tenants, a free-standing restaurant, a commissary kitchen, and incubator kitchens.
There are four identical kitchen stations, all designed to give start-ups a sheltered environment to begin their quest.
Chef Jessica, also a member of Slow Food, provides guidance for licensing and teaches time management, pricing of products based on costs, and more.
These kitchens are for professionals who are starting a business, but not for one time only.
The cost is about $10 to $20 per hour, not including storage, and depends on usage; in this case, the cost goes down with more frequent use. The average beginner starts out using the kitchen once a week and gradually increases.
The East End Market is just about 2 years old and is all about promoting local food and talent.
Tampa: Shared Kitchens of Tampa
After working in broadcasting for 10 years, Ben Mauch looked around for a “big idea.” It took five more years to find it when, one day, it hit him: Open an incubator kitchen.
Even though he doesn’t cook, he quit his TV job and rented a former restaurant space in a strip mall where he founded Shared Kitchens of Tampa.
It’s a small area, with half devoted to the kitchen and half devoted to event space, for a total of 1,300 square feet.
All participants must sign a six-month agreement and come in eight hours a month. Mauch wants the budding cooks to be serious, but he doesn’t want to lock them into a year-long contract if it doesn’t work out for them.
He discourages one-time use unless the client is already licensed, because while his facility is fully licensed, he doesn’t assume liability for anyone.
Mauch makes sure his kitchen is immaculate and renters have all their paperwork filled out correctly and are following the law, so state inspectors are very comfortable with his kitchen, often inspecting his new vendors all in one place at one time. Referrals for insurance and for marketing help are available, too.
His clients run the gamut, from start-ups like hot-dog carts, mobile caterers, general caterers, Thai food, Haitian meat pies,to a mother who cooks twice a week for her disabled son.
Also renting space are Travis Williamson and business partner Rob Watrous who are making vanilla extract. They are trying to bring attention to the vanilla bean business in Uganda to get better treatment for the farmers there.
This is a diverse group, to be sure, and with the kitchen available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, Mauch’s schedule can be just as hectic as it used to be in broadcasting.
But as he says, “It’s much more satisfying.”
Boynton Beach: Community Caring Kitchen
As executive director, Sherry Johnson has been with the nonprofit Community Caring Center (CCC) for about 20 years, growing it from a food pantry to a center for economic development, which includes the Secret Garden Café and Community Caring Kitchen culinary incubator program.
Housed in an old, unassuming mini strip mall, the 3,000-square-foot café/market/deli/bakery/catering facility offers shared usage of a fully equipped commercial kitchen, plus retail market space and event space.
Participants gain culinary practice and technical assistance with developing a business plan, creation, and capitalization, as well as social media. The program also offers the opportunity to become a part of the on-site Market Cooperative, resulting in reduction of administrative costs.
The CCC has an urban farm project that provides fresh produce for chefs at the café and for its other programs.
Success stories are plentiful. Starting in 2008, CCC used its green market program to recruit 50 or more new entrepreneurs a year, but referrals became so plentiful, the program was discontinued in 2011.
This year, CCC began the Bean Scene Sunset Marketplace, an all-vegan green market for vegan and gluten-free products. Like its predecessor, it provides a test market for clients to help determine market viability and pricing, and to get direct customer feedback while developing a following.
The 8-year-old incubator program has had 17 businesses “graduate” and go on to open their own storefronts. Others become part of the hospitality industry, landing a variety of jobs after training in the commercial kitchen.
Largo/St. Petersburg: Your Pro Kitchen
In 1996, Cindy Pickering left a 25-year career in broadcasting to start a salsa company. Though not a chef, she made a deal to sell the salsa to a large sports-bar chain.
But then she fell into the “school of hard knocks,” discovering all the regulations governing food production in Florida that she was unaware of, getting unclear and complicated answers from state and local agencies, and finding that the shared commercial kitchen she needed did not exist in her area.
So she built her own 3,000-square-foot shared kitchen space and opened in 2008. After many mistakes and a sizeable investment, she had an epiphany: She’d “pay it forward” and prevent others from going through what she did – by franchising incubator kitchens.
Within 18 months, her kitchen space had expanded to 4,500 square feet; by 2012, her franchise business was rolling.
Headquartered in Largo, the Your Pro Kitchen Incubator Kitchen franchise has 10 locations in Florida and one in Texas (Texas’ Cottage Food Laws are similar to Florida’s). Each kitchen is built from the ground up, and Pickering gives all her franchisees complete information and a checklist for success. She personally vets each proposed location to see if it’s viable, and introduces potential clients to local farmers markets to be sure they have an outlet to sell their products.
All kitchens are open 24/7. Clients have keyless entry, the ability to create schedules online, and many resources. Rates start at $16.87 per hour, and franchises cost $25,000. The newest kitchen opens in Fort Lauderdale soon, but already is being expanded due to pre-opening demand.
Most of Pickering’s franchisees are chefs, or men and women ages 30 to 60 who are in or were in the food business and want to grow.
As Pickering says, “I show them how to turn their passion into revenue.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
East End Market
- Jessica Tantalo
- 321-236-3316; eastendmkt.com
Shared Kitchens of Tampa
- Ben Mauch
- 813-793-1970; sharedkitchensoftampa.com
Community Caring Center
- Sherry Johnson
- 561-752-8598; cccgbb.org/secret-garden-café
Your Pro Kitchen
- Cindy Pickering
- 727-531-COOK (2665); yourprokitchen.com