Commercial Kitchen Helps Entrepreneurs Get Started

By Aaron Weinberg Skagit Valley Herald, Mount Vernon, Wash. WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Interesting story on how two food entrepreneurs became leaders of a commercial kitchen. During peak hours, the space can see 30 to 40 people using the kitchen at one time. Tami Sakuma and Susan Berentson, co-owners of the "From the Farm" sort of fell into the job by accident. These days they easily provide orientations for new clients, schedule kitchen times and act as mentors for dozens of small or aspiring business owners.

BURLINGTON

Tami Sakuma and Susan Berentson, co-owners of From the Farm, helped prepare shortcakes with three employees Monday morning at their commercial kitchen at Bayview Business Park.

"It's quiet this morning," Sakuma said. "Usually we have about 20 people here making the shortcakes."

Sakuma and Berentson started their business about six years ago, with their original plan being to sell baked goods at their retail stand off Josh Wilson Road.

Their business plan changed while they were looking for a baking space, when the Port of Skagit proposed putting them in charge of a commercial kitchen to be used by anyone needing space to cook, bake or package products.

"We had the business plan for retail," Sakuma said. "We were going in blind with the kitchen rental."

That partnership with the port six years ago has turned out well, said both parties.

Sakuma and Berentson have about 60 clients sharing the kitchen space, and through the years they've played a part in helping small businesses become successful enough to move into larger facilities.

"We have people with big dreams come in here and grow enough so they move on," Berentson said.

An example of that is the spiced honey company Henry's Humdingers, located next door to From the Farm. The company used the commercial kitchen for two years before moving to the larger facility.

"We outgrew the kitchen," said Chief Operating Officer Denise Miller. "(Sakuma) and (Berentson) were great in helping us get started."

Sakuma and Berentson had several years of retail experience, including 15 while running Sakuma Market Stand in Burlington, before starting From the Farm.

Managing the commercial kitchen, on the other hand, was entirely new for both of them. During peak hours, 30 to 40 people use the kitchen at one time, Sakuma said.

"The kitchen has been a learning experience," Berentson said.

For instance, they have to deep clean the kitchen daily, provide orientations for new clients and schedule kitchen times.

Acting as mentors for dozens of small or aspiring business owners was also a challenge.

"We have a lot of really inexperienced people come in thinking they can sell their products, but they don't really know how," Berentson said.

That spurred the two to offer consulting to help guide entrepreneurs in the right direction. That can mean helping with business licenses, permits or more difficult problems.

"We had 20 years under our belt of coming up with ideas, so we figured we'd be able to help people," Sakuma said.

Over the years they've had many memorable clients, including a grandmother who wanted to teach her grandchildren her Christmas cookie recipes.

"You don't need to be a business to rent the kitchen," Sakuma said. "They all had a great time. There was flour all over the kitchen."

She said many businesses are content sticking with renting the commercial kitchen. Others outgrow the space quickly.

Pablitos Salsa moved to its own space in March after 11 months at From the Farm. The company started out making 50 pounds of salsa a week in the commercial kitchen. Now it makes 1,500 pounds, co-owner Steve Short said.

"We were profitable after about six months," Short said. "They were very accommodating when we needed them."

As for Berentson and Sakuma's shortcake assembly line, they said it'll ramp up during this summer.

"It's a little early and college is out late this year," Sakuma said. "We'll have a lot of college-age girls here when school lets out."

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