When Sara Nash earns her degree in baking and pastry arts from Madison College in May, she wants to start a business making desserts for small restaurants, pubs and coffeeshops.
There's just one problem, she says: "I don't have the capital to get the equipment I need." Nash estimates that starting a commercial kitchen - renting and renovating the space and outfitting it with equipment - could easily cost $15,000.
Anybody who wants to go into the food-making business usually faces the same hurdle. Says Madison Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, "There are a fair number of commercial kitchens out there, but most of them are at churches."
The Northside Planning Council wants to help these entrepreneurs by building a commercial kitchen for public use. It's using $1.2 million in funds from the federal Community Development Block Grant, the city of Madison, private donations and fundraising events. The kitchen will be located at 1502 Pankratz Rd. off of Packers Avenue; the council hopes to open it by late summer.
"There's a huge need for people to gain access to kitchens," says project coordinator Ellen Barnard. "We have a feasibility study funded by the state that shows we could easily be operating at 85% capacity in three years."
The kitchen is targeting three groups: street-cart vendors, caterers and people developing packaged food for sale. It will have four kitchens, including one specially equipped for bakers like Nash and others for meat processing and food development.
The kitchen will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and cost $15 to $25 an hour to rent, depending on how often it is used and what it is used for, Barnard says. It is expected to be sustained through user fees.
Another goal, says Barnard, is to help users develop their food business. Staff will help users with business planning "so they're not actually staying in the kitchen but can grow out of it."
Nash, for one, can hardly wait. "The incubator kitchen is ideal," she says. "It gives myself and others hoping to start a small food business an opportunity they simply would not otherwise have."