Maybe you’ve been told, “This tastes so good — you could open a restaurant.”
But starting a food business is a lot harder than it sounds. A new website makes that leap a little less daunting, partnering commercial kitchens in Iowa with people looking for a licensed place to prepare food.
“To put together your own kitchen requires a lot of money and licensing,” said Jake Kundert, project lead of Iowa Kitchen Connect, the online platform that links food entrepreneurs with commercial kitchens in Iowa. “A commercial kitchen needs to have stainless steel and washable walls. It needs to be inspected.”
The project, which launched in Iowa City in 2015, was inspired by other community kitchens “popping up around the country,” said Kundert. It is managed by The Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development and has since expanded to cities and towns across the state of Iowa.
The Iowa Kitchen Connect website features a map of Iowa showing the currently rentable commercial kitchens (two in Iowa City; one each in Davenport and Des Moines), their rental rates, availability, equipment and rules. Entrepreneurs can fill out a rental request form on the website for review by kitchen managers. This fall, Iowa Kitchen Connect will host a series of Starting Off Right workshops, offering in-person networking opportunities, as well.
Todd Jones, co-owner of Bao Chow in Iowa City’s Old Capitol Town Center, rents space from The 1105 Project in Iowa City, a commercial kitchen listed on Iowa Kitchen Connect’s website. “We have the kitchen two days a week from 5 p.m. until midnight. We use the kitchen for prep work all the way through cooking, then we transport [the bao] back to [the Old Capitol Town Center].”
Jones and his partners, Yanyi Zhu and Connor McGuire, make thousands of Chinese bao per week in The 1105 Project kitchen, said Jones.
“They offer everything that [we] need in there … There was nothing that we had to purchase; there was adequate space to do everything. The kitchen meets all of our demands.”
On the Iowa Kitchen Connect website, commercial kitchen managers can fill out a short form and the website will generate more than 15 pages of official documents for kitchen policies such as sanitation and cleaning procedures and rules for facility use.
“It’s a really incredible tool,” said Kundert. “It really is helping organizations that have kitchen space to be able to develop … a really solid revenue source.”
Sara Sedlacek, Communications and Development Director of the Johnson County Crisis Center, which runs The 1105 Project kitchen rental program, said the center has “taken feedback from some of the renters in the past, and we’ve taken that feedback and made sure we have the right equipment and that we have a kitchen that people want to rent. It’s a really nice kitchen.”
“Having the space is so critical to making that leap from making amazing pies in your [home] kitchen to being able to sell them commercially,” Sedlacek said.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 228.