Rental Kitchen May Help Food Start-Ups

By Jim Gaines
The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A new “kitchen incubator” is in the works in Knoxville to help small food businesses get their businesses off the ground.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.

Dale Akins tracks building permits from his office at 10433 Hickory Path Way, behind the nameplate The Market Edge. Across his parking lot is an empty site, but he wants it to bustle with food-related entrepreneurs.

Despite having no formal food background, he wants to build a rental kitchen in the Jackson Oaks West Office Park, tucked off Kingston Pike behind Bill Jones Music.

One potential user is Lynnette Casazza, owner of Mama C’s Gluten Free Goodies.

“Right now I have a domestic kitchen in my home. I’m ready to go to the next level,” she said. Moving all her production to Akins’ kitchen could cut her work time from 30 hours per week to 15.

When a friend, a former restaurant owner, asked about renting Akins’ garage as a catering kitchen, Akins figured renovation would cost more than it was worth. He posted the idea for a shared-use kitchen on the Knoxville Foodie Facebook group.

“I was overwhelmed with the number of responses, and also the needs I’d never thought of,” Akins said. Chefs, caterers, canners, food trucks, kosher cooks, sausage-makers, famers’ market vendors, church groups and others need a USDA-certified kitchen at least part time, he found. There’s also need for a small-scale food packaging facility.

Central Collective at 923 N. Central St. and Cutting Edge Classroom, 817 N. Herron Road, both allow some kitchen rental. Dale Mackey, who runs Dale’s Fried Pies from Central Collective, and John Alunni of Cutting Edge Classroom agree their facilities differ from what Akins wants to build.

Akins plans a “kitchen incubator” to let small food businesses share costs. Start-ups usually don’t have the funds to build their own kitchens, he said.

“You’re either going to be an idea, or you’re going to be $400,000 in trying to get it done,” Akins said.

He plans to put at least $500,000 into three types of easily-cleaned kitchens, a dishwashing room, a packaging room, and a food truck stop with a grease trap dump and water/power hookups.

Kitchens would probably rent for $35 to $40 per hour, but he hopes to get that down to $30 per hour. But he would only begin construction if he has enough clients.

“This is not a ‘Build it and they will come’ concept,” Akins said. If he can rent kitchens for 6 to 8 hours a day, he thinks it will work. He has about 150 potential customers.

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