A long-abandoned historic building at the corner of West Berkeley's Eighth and Carlton streets is about to receive new life as what the owner says will be a first-of-its-kind food production facility. Construction is underway on what will eventually be twelve commercial incubator kitchens under a single roof, each one leased to an up-and-coming food entrepreneur. The tentative name for this unique facility: The Berkeley Kitchens.
The project is the brainchild of Jonah Hendrickson, a professional sculptor-turned-real estate redeveloper. Hendrickson, who grew up in Berkeley, said he first became aware of the demand for commercial kitchen space during a prior redevelopment project, when he got a flood of inquiries from food producers who were tired of paying by the hour to use a shared commercial kitchen — tired of squeezing into inconvenient time slots and packing their stuff up in Tupperware to wheel in and out on a dolly.
As an artist, Hendrickson said he was especially sympathetic to their predicament: "I know what it is to have your own space as a small business."
The twelve kitchens will include eleven standard commercial kitchens — each between 500 and 1,000 square feet in size — and one certified dairy production facility, which will be leased to a maker of artisan cheeses. Each unit will come equipped with a commercial hood system and the required array of sinks, but the overall approach is "plug and play": Each tenant will need to bring his or her own kitchen furniture and appliances; pay his or her own utilities bills; and obtain his or her own health department certification.
The site was originally home to Standard Die & Tool Company and later to the Nexus Institute, an art collective that vacated the building in 2006. During World War II, cluster bombs were manufactured there.
Hendrickson, who purchased the building two years ago, noted that the space comes with several challenges: It requires a seismic renovation and the construction of a (currently nonexistent) sidewalk, and there are limitations as to what can be done to the facade because of the building's historical designation.
He stressed that the space will be geared toward up-and-comers. So far, those who have shown interest in leasing a kitchen include the cheese maker, a nut butter producer, a catering business, and a couple of mobile food vendors.
No leases have been finalized, but Hendrickson estimates that about eight of the eleven standard commercial kitchens are already accounted for. He expects construction to be completed by January.
For more information, email Hendrickson at JonahHendrickson at Mac dot com.
The conventional wisdom is that starting a food truck or food cart business is far less expensive than opening a restaurant, and that's true. But the fact is, it's expensive to start any food business from the ground up. For many first-time mobile food entrepreneurs, the thousands (often tens of thousands) of dollars in up-front permitting fees and overhead make it a cost-prohibitive proposition.
But what if aspiring food vendors could just rent a cart — one that's fully equipped and permitted? The 25th Street Collective, a sustainable business incubator and artisans' collective based in Oakland's Uptown, is hoping they'll be able to make such a rent-a-cart program a reality.
Hiroko Kurihara, the organization's founder, explained that the collective was created for the express purpose of helping small, fledgling businesses share their resources. So when two collective members, the proprietors of a mobile coffee cart called Art Is In Coffee, applied for mobile food vending permits from the City of Oakland recently, Kurihara saw up-close how challenging and costly that process can be.
So she came up with her rental program idea, which is still in its early planning phase. The upshot is that the collective would purchase a cart, equip it, insure it, and obtain all the necessary permits. Vendors would then pay the collective to use the cart.
Esperanza Pallana, coordinator of the Oakland Food Policy Council, said the proposed program would "help new entrepreneurs pilot their business without going all in and going for broke" — it would be akin to Rockridge's Guest Chef, but for mobile food.
Meanwhile, Pallana and the collective have organized a series of workshops designed to educate prospective mobile food vendors. This Saturday, September 15, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., there will be a food safety certification class held at the collective's home at 477 25th Street. The $150 cost of the class comes with a food handler's certificate that will last five years.
Kurihara explained that the collective is exploring options for funding the purchase of the cart, but that she hopes it can be up and running within the next six months. What also still needs to be hashed out: when, where, and the exact terms under which a rented cart would be able to operate legally, in compliance with Oakland's current regulations.