Photos by Victoria Edstedt
For us foodies, nothing is more exciting than finding new producers who offer authentic homemade-quality goods. Little do we know about what it takes for entrepreneurs to make a transition from a home kitchen to a commercial space and bring our favorite items to the table. It’s an expensive and tiresome gamble, so many choose the new (and safer) route of collaborative kitchens, which become a common and successful practice in BoCo.
Brenda Lehenbauer and Stacey Courtney at Othermama’s bakery opened up their doors in November 2017. As any small business at the beginning, they barely made enough money for themselves. Everything was being reinvested back into the equipment, inventory, advertising, taxes – the list goes on and on. “At first, I didn’t really know about shared space, “ Courtney said. “Our leaseholder, the man who owns this building, had told me about it.” Courtney and Lehenbauer thought it’s a great idea for utilizing extra space in the bakery and decided to give the shared kitchen model a try. Afterall, it helps to pay bills at the end of the month.
Now, Othermama’s has three different food companies working out of their kitchen when the bakery is closed. “There is a lot of meats prepared, so we didn’t want that during our hours,” Courtney said. “We are a little bit picky and choosy of who we have in, because we like to keep a very clean, tidy place.” Despite certain limitations, everyone seems to be happy and more people call with inquiries. Courtney said that in order to thrive as a small businesses it’s important to stick together. “We are always looking for other individuals,” she said. “It’s a growing thing.”
Matthew Arnold and Nikki Dugas of Salad Ground Kitchens intuitively picked up on the trend about five years ago, when they bought their first production space to do recipe testings for their side project. Arnold and Dugas noticed the need, among other entrepreneurs, for more flexible shared kitchens where people could work at their convenience. “We saw that a lot of the small food companies weren’t capable of opening up their own facility to start food production,” Arnold said. He and Dugas figured: if they install the right equipment and manage the facility, then all these people can finally launch their businesses on a bigger scale at a lower start-up cost.
Supporting entrepreneurs, through the creation of affordable commercial kitchens, ended up being their primary focus ever since. “We have about 50 different food companies that work out of our three shared kitchens here in Boulder,” Arnold said. He mentioned that most commercial kitchens are run by people who have their own food company and it’s not always the best option. Salad Ground can accommodate three members at a time, while each of them have sufficient space to run the production and access to the highest customer service. “This is the only thing we do – we manage the facility, the schedule, we serve our kitchen members so they have the easiest time possible,” he said.
Property management in the food industry is not easy, but can be rewarding. “When you are working with any start-up community there is a lot of turnover,” Arnold said. “There are a lot of food companies that don’t make it or they decide to go do something else and shut down.” The inspiring part for Arnold is to see his members outgrowing shared spaces. “It’s bittersweet in a way. We are sad to see them go, but we are also incredibly proud.”
There are all kinds of people working hand-in-hand at Salad Ground: food wholesalers, farmers’ market vendors, caterers, food trucks and more. Arnold said that as operators, they are trying hard to cultivate a community feel in all three facilities and “there is a lot to do to keep the lights on.” So far it has been great. Kitchen members bring their own smallwares to share, organize networking events and even go on purchasing runs for each other.
Shared kitchens turned into something more than just cost-effective platform for launching a food business. It’s a safe ground to develop lifelong connections, find necessary support and make your dreams come true. “We are extremely grateful to be in Boulder, because they are so appreciative of innovative food and gourmet food,” Arnold said. “We really believe in the value of collaborative spaces as a way to create a community, share wisdom and best practices, and to ultimately grow your company.”