Findlay's incubator kitchen ready to get cooking

Posted at 6:00 AM, Mar 03, 2016

CINCINNATI -- If you make a mean barbecue sauce or knockout kimchi that people insist you should sell, there will soon be a new place to test-drive your food business.

Findlay Kitchen will finally step out of Findlay Market's master plan and realize its place as an incubator for food entrepreneurs when it opens on March 23. Findlay Kitchen is formally named the Charlotte and Edward Unnewehr Kitchen, after the wishes of its largest donor, the Marge & Charles J. Schott Foundation.

Located on 1719 Elm St., just half a block south from the market‘s main entrance, the 8,000-square-foot building will house 10 kitchens and a whopping 2,000 square feet of dry storage, refrigeration and freezer space.

Lay of the Land

"That was a large need we found through focus groups, and also through talking to other incubator kitchens around the country," said kitchen director Marianne Hamilton. "Their No. 1 one regret or need was that they wanted more storage space."

Four of the kitchens are monthly rentals, geared for more established businesses looking to scale up. Pho Lang Thang, a Vietnamese restaurant at Findlay Market, will move into one of these kitchens. The restaurant will use the space to make pho (broth) and other items to expand its operation into dinner service. It'll also enable the eatery to make more items from scratch.

"We are also hoping to make our bread in-house in the future," said Duy Nguyen, owner and operations manager. 

The other kitchens are hourly rentals. There are two “prep" (preparation) kitchens, an icing room, bakery and two production kitchens. The prep kitchens will be minimally equipped with work tables, reach-in coolers and freezers, but no cooking equipment.

"Those will get a lot of use from food trucks," Hamilton said.

Then there's the bakery, which connects to a temperature- and humidity-controlled room designed for icing and chocolate work. The climate control, a coveted feature among chocolatiers, enables optimal texture and consistency in chocolate. The bakery will be equipped with a 60-quart mixer, deck and rack ovens.

The two production kitchens will come fully equipped with gas ranges, convection ovens, fryers, tilt skillets, steam kettles, reach-in refrigerators and freezers. The kitchens also will double as classrooms for cooking classes, community and corporate events and even pop-up restaurants.

All equipment will be mounted on casters for easy relocation within the facility.  Storage cages that can be secured also will be available for rent.

How to Participate

Anyone can apply to use the kitchen via Findlay Kitchen's website. Once the application is received, the staff will contact the applicant to review next steps.

The application is essentially to become a member of the kitchen. Membership runs $75 annually and is a requirement for using the kitchen.

The hourly rental rates run $16-$20 an hour. "It'll all be scheduled through a web-based scheduling system," Hamilton said. Members also can reserve specialty equipment such as blenders and mixers at no additional cost.

The monthly rental kitchens run $1,200 a month. Currently, there are more than 30 businesses slated to become members, plus about 20 on the waiting list.

Vision and Goals

Findlay Kitchen aims to create a more inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem, building on Findlay Market's goals of driving economic activity, social interaction and inclusion.

"We are specifically looking for low-income, minority, immigrant and refugee communities to be a part of the kitchen," she said.

To that end, Findlay Kitchen is partnering with Mortar, an entrepreneurship program that helps low-income urban entrepreneurs. Selected food entrepreneurs will receive scholarships to Mortar's program, as well as 100 hours of kitchen time. They also will get their own food-industry mentors.

ArtWorks CO.STARTERS, a business development program for the creative and community-minded, is also a partner. Findlay Kitchen plans to add food-specific classes to the curriculum and host those classes. One example is the legal and regulatory class.

"We will bring in experts from the Department of Agriculture, the Cincinnati Health Department and the FDA," Hamilton said.

Through its partners, Findlay Kitchen also plans to connect its members with discounted services, ranging from legal matters to accounting to marketing.

Three's Company

When Findlay Kitchen opens, it will join two other incubator kitchens in the Tri-State: the Northern Kentucky Incubator Kitchen in Covington and the newly opened Hatchery in Newport.

Is this new incubator one too many for the region? Rachel DesRochers, owner of Grateful Grahams and founder of the Kentucky incubator kitchens, does not think so. She's excited about having an incubator kitchen on "the other side of the river."

"This region is alive and passionate around all aspects of food," she said.

However, DesRochers believes communication is key. "Marianne (Hamilton) and I have met a few times already to start this discussion," she said. They plan to offer reciprocity so their members may benefit from programming at all three kitchens.

"We also talked about doing open houses together so that people can visit all three kitchens through a guided tour," DesRochers said.

Hamilton wants to ensure their curricula don't overlap: "We're making sure we're an effective collaborator, keeping in mind the needs of our food entrepreneurs." 

Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.