By Mark Urban
The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “Center City Kitchen” in Traverse City, Michigan offers budding chefs a commercial oven, induction cook tops, a proofer oven, reach-in refrigerators and even storage for food entrepreneurs who need help launching and or growing their businesses.
By definition, there is no more appropriate description of Center City Kitchen.
‘Traverse City’s Incubator Kitchen’ is not only a controlled environment for the care and protection of small objects, but it is also a place for things to develop under specific circumstances.
“We’ll grow as we need to grow,” said Ryan Wells, who co-owns Center City Kitchen with his wife, Meagan.
The facility offers a commercial oven, induction cook tops, a proofer oven, reach-in refrigerators and storage for companies that need access to equipment. It also has three-compartment sink and a mop sink for clean-up.
“We’re not to be confused with a short-order cook kitchen,” Wells said. “We’re an incubator production kitchen. We can be used as a commissary kitchen or for food trucks to do prep and their morning work as well as at the end of the day, get rid of the gray water, mop the trucks out, hook up the power, that kind of thing.”
The kitchen space was exactly what Sea Food Driven was seeking when the food cart operated inside Little Fleet in November. Sea Food Driven started working on Halloween and had product ready to serve the next day.
“We knew that if we were going to be at the Little Fleet that we were going to need a commissary kitchen because a bar isn’t going to have enough sufficient facilities for us to go to,” said Sea Food Driven co-owner Allison Thacker. “We were in here, we got inspected and we started all of our prep so we could hit the ground running at Little Fleet Nov. 1. So we didn’t have to waste a single day.”
Use of the facility — which includes areas for meeting and client presentations — comes with one monthly cost. That includes all utilities and janitorial services.
“We try to make it as simple as possible,” said Wells, who has a degree in finance and has experience in property management.
“I’ve been an entrepreneur myself for many, many years. I know how important facility is and I also know how expensive facility can be and it’s usually what drags people down is you get caught up with overhead, whether necessary or unnecessary.”
“High overhead can wipe you out if you don’t have return on your investment and having the working capital to carry you through. Not only do we try to make it as inexpensive as possible, we try to make it as simple as possible which is $400 a month which is one check they write a month and that’s all-inclusive.”
Center City Kitchen has a soft opening in April of 2016 before having a more formal opening in the fall. In addition to Sea Food Driven, the Seafoam Candy Company, Pollyculture Kombucha and caterer Basic Gatherings use Center City on a regular basis.
Pollyculture Kombucha — run by a husband and wife team — only use Center City Kitchen once or twice a week.
“They both have full-time jobs and they own their company, Pollyculture Kombucha as well,” Wells said. “The one day they have off a week is Wednesday and they come in from 10 to 5 on Wednesday, check their tanks, disinfect all their bottling and fill all their bottles, labeling, packaging, clean up all their stuff and they’re done. They come back one more time though the week — Friday or Saturday — check on things, make sure things are all right, maybe meet a vendor and they’re out.
“That type of tenant couldn’t exist without a shared incubator, supplement-the-cost kind of facility. It just wouldn’t make sense. You can’t spend $1,200 to $1,500 a month and do those crawl, walk, run responsible steps to growing your business.”
That’s also what Sea Food Driven was looking at when it relocated from Ann Arbor, where chef and co-owner Alex Curtis hailed from. In one May-August period in Ann Arbor, Thacker said the company served 1,600 customers.
“Seeing that many people, we wouldn’t have enough space on the cart to even prep all that,” Thacker said. “We need that space where we have ovens and more tools at our disposal that kind of open up what our menu can look like. Then we can cater to different diets. We can say our fryers are completely gluten-free, but we have to clean them so we can keep them that way. We can have access to all of this fun-stuff so we can really keep our facilities up to the standards that we want them to be.”
When Pollyculture Kombucha needed a separate room for locked storage to house its fermentation tanks, Wells delivered.
“I’m a problem solver,” Wells said. “You come in and and say we need this, this and this and I figure it out.”
Wells also has 300 stem glasses available to caterers and is looking to add tables and chairs to rent out.
“We’re an incubator, but it doesn’t mean we are temporary,” he said. “We’ve got some ability to ramp up.”