By: Liga Brige
If you do not own yet a brick & mortar restaurant space, your food business might be required to operate out of a certified, shared kitchen - a requirement nowadays needed for most types of food business operations in the DMV area (with some exceptions).
When it comes to finding an adequate shared kitchen space for their business operations, many entrepreneurs wonder where to find them and how to choose the best option for their business.
You have to keep in mind that it is not your own restaurant space, you have to share it with other entrepreneurs and abide by the ''house rules'' while making the most out of it and growing your business.
For the past years, I have worked with several food entrepreneurs and have seen their business journeys taking flight at different shared kitchen spaces in DMV.
There are some practical insights, which I would like to share, especially with the newly established and recently operating food entrepreneurs to help them make the best choice when it comes to signing a contract with a shared kitchen space.
1. Location: Time is Money
Many times I have seen food entrepreneurs making daily trips to their shared kitchen spaces for more than 45 min. one way. Although it doesn't seem so much in a short term, it might turn unsustainable in the long run, logistically and financially. Not even mentioning the toll it can take on an entrepreneurial motivation and family logistics. Finding a shared kitchen space close to your residence or customers (sales points) might be a good idea if you want to save on the travel expenses and time. Running a small business (especially, if with few employees or just yourself) involves a lot of logistical planning and organization. It definitely helps, if the shared kitchen location has been thought out well from several points of view to make your entrepreneurial journey easier and not more complicated.
2. Kitchen Space & Inventory
Everyone's food business concept is unique. One entrepreneur might need a deep fryer, the other one needs a large packaging space. If your food business is a food truck, you might need a parking space, which not all shared kitchens might offer. When it comes to the shared kitchen space itself, it's all about your business needs - does a particular kitchen offer you enough space (how many tables), tools, and gadgets you need to create your products? Some kitchens might include kitchen tools in the rental, some not, just provide the use of an oven and meal prep space. But on the other hand, the kitchen can have a large dry and cold storage, which is perfect for those who do wholesale. Smaller, urban shared kitchen spaces are great for start-ups, but might not be able to service bigger operations. Larger, industrial kitchen spaces usually host all types of food businesses, but their location might be in the outskirts of the city.
It is very important to visit shared kitchen spaces in person and see all the inventory yourself and talk to the kitchen manager in charge to make sure you will be able to function there successfully. What also matters greatly is the work environment. Observe the kitchen dynamics and atmosphere, your interaction with the shared kitchen management, and fellow entrepreneurs. At the end of the day you might end up working at your shared kitchen space daily, for long hours and being in a good, healthy, and positive work environment for a business owner is part of the business success.
3. Membership Cost
To rent a shared kitchen will cost you, however all depends on your food business operation: what type of food business you have, how many days a week you need to use it. Shared kitchen memberships and pricing varies from kitchen to kitchen. The bigger the food business operation, the costlier it will be. Usually, this is a considerable operational expense for the food start ups, so it is important to prioritize the space and tool needs. Some kitchens charge per hour or daily, some offer full-time and part-time memberships. From my recent experience, a monthly bill for a shared kitchen space rental can vary anywhere from $500 - $1600+ (part-time and full-time use) in the DMV area and the costs have been increasing during the past year, which is why it is so important to follow carefully the balance between this kind of expense burden and the sales projections.
4. Additional Membership Benefits
Although the shared kitchen pricing might be seen as a downside for the food business, there is a considerable positive spin to this matter. Many of the shared kitchen spaces offer additional support for the food entrepreneurs and accompany them through their business journeys.
You might encounter a business accelerator or incubator program, where you can learn the aspects of doing food business - for example, recipe costing, sales management, marketing strategies and more. It also can be quite satisfying to work and learn alongside other food entrepreneurs, who already have experience and from whom some will not deny you a good advice on diverse business aspects like, for example, how to choose the best merchant services provider.
Some of the shared kitchens might also allow you to do customer pick-ups from their front stores and help selling and marketing your products. Because it is not cheap to rent a shared kitchen space, it is recommended to take full advantage of all the possible benefits that such a space can provide to your business.
5. Reviews From Peers
Peer reviews and experiences are also very important when choosing your operating space. Ask fellow chefs and food entrepreneurs about their experiences in different shared kitchen spaces. Online reviews are great, but hearing personal experiences is important.
In conclusion, think through all your choices carefully, always keeping in mind in which stage of your food business you currently are and how a shared kitchen space will satisfy and help you bring your business to the next level.
Shop around, take your time to visit several spaces, compare the advantages and disadvantages and ask questions to the kitchen managers about every detail, so that when you sign the rental contract, you feel confident that this is the best choice for you and your business at this moment and you feel motivated and supported to run your small food business as dreamed.
About Liga Brige
Liga is a food business consultant and founder of Fork Star Consulting, a small consulting start-up helping food entrepreneurs to establish or improve their food business operations in DMV.
Liga is passionate about helping people to achieve their dream to start their own food business ventures, even if with a little start-up capital. Several food business clients, who received Liga’sassistance in the past were featured as success stories in Washington Post and New York Times. Liga is also a former career diplomat, holds a Master’s degree in International Relations and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Latvia, and is fluent in 5 languages.
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