AMESBURY — Over time, Lisa Sutton’s Kitchen Local should turn out more than mac and cheese and cinnamon sugar popovers. If all goes as planned, the shared commercial kitchen also will cook up jobs and economic development.
“Everywhere, people are trying to eat healthier and support local, local farms and local companies,” Sutton said. “Life has gotten so crazy and busy that people are trying to come back to that. And so then it comes back to small, local food companies. I connected the dots.”
Open just a few weeks, Kitchen Local offers food businesses a place where they can cook for commercial sale without having their own certified kitchen, which most could not afford.
“People who want to start a business producing local food products . . . it gives them a place where they can go and where they can grow,” said Christine Sullivan, chief executive of the Enterprise Center at Salem State University.
There are enough people interested that last summer the Enterprise Center started a Local Food initiative to help connect them.
“We held a workshop on the business of local food and had 120 people show up,” said Sullivan, noting that 50 turned out for another meeting to gauge interest in a shared kitchen in Lynn. “When you see numbers like that, that level of interest tells you there’s something bigger out there.”
Sutton is certainly convinced. After a career in business development for the disability management industry, the Amesbury resident wanted a change. She thought of starting a quiche business, as she had some family connections and history in the food business. But after a period of study — and looking for a place to make those quiches — she decided that she didn’t just want to be an entrepreneur herself but help others with similar dreams.
Not to mention that — at least in the short term — her research suggested shared kitchen space was an even better business opportunity. The nearest shared kitchen she could find was in Jamaica Plain, despite the booming “edible economy” on the North Shore.
“I took a look at all the farmers markets opening and growing and expanding,” she said. “Right there is a telltale sign of our burgeoning microfoods industry at the grass-roots level. . . . On the North Shore we have a lot of boutique markets or grocery stores and they’re all carrying local food products.”
Kitchen Local occupies a large, sunny, 1,300-square-foot ground-floor space at the 14 Cedar Street Studios, a repurposed brick building built in the 1870s for manufacturing carriages. Instead of buying their own equipment and passing often-complex state and local licensing procedures, cooks pay $20 an hour to rent one of two cooking stations. Their work there is covered by Kitchen Local’s food service permit from the state and the Amesbury Board of Health.
Sutton provides stainless-steel work tables, sinks, a 30-quart floor mixer, a 24-quart steam kettle, and a 60-inch heavy duty restaurant range with six burners, a griddle, and two ovens. She also provides other items such as basic pots and pans, as well as cold and dry storage.
Interestingly, there’s no dishwasher, because most of the dishes the cooks are using would be too big to fit in it anyway.
Cooks provide the ideas and the ingredients, and are responsible for cleaning up when they’re done. Working in a licensed kitchen can open many more markets for them.
“I have been a residential baker for three years, and this way I can move to the next level for my business,” said Lauren Suszczewicz, proprietor of Haverhill’s 19 Steps Bake Shop, named for the distance she lugged groceries from her car to her kitchen.
As a residential baker, “I could bake in my home with the City of Haverhill’s permission — I have my permits and everything. And I could sell my goods at farmers markets and craft shows and different events,” Suszczewicz said. “But since I’ve been accepted into Kitchen Local, I want to go for my wholesale commercial license so I can sell to businesses and not just to individuals.”
She’s hoping for a big market for her mini cinnamon sugar popovers, and her first time in the Kitchen Local facility on a recent Friday made her think it can happen.
“My kitchen at home, I can do probably 12 at a time, versus Kitchen Local I can do probably 96 at a time,” she said. “It’s a big difference for me. I won’t have to stay up all night anymore.”
Suszczewicz works full time during the day selling computers. “I’ve been looking into this for over a year, trying to find someplace to rent space from,” she said.
Kitchen Local’s permits cover the kitchen facility, but clients selling food to the public still need their own permits, depending on whether they’re selling wholesale or retail. In some cases, Sutton says, USDA approval may be needed as well.
Sutton requires those who use the facility to sign an agreement to ensure that they know the rules and have the insurance they need.
Newburyport’s Katie Habib has been a part-time personal chef since 2003, providing meals and catering in her clients’ homes. She has been looking for a licensed shared kitchen space that would allow her to ramp up her business, selling prepared meals at venues like farmers markets. She knew Sutton through a mutual friend, and Kitchen Local appears to be the answer to her needs.
“She gave a lot of thought to the layout, so two chefs will be able to cook there at the same time without getting in each other’s way at all,” Habib said.
Habib has booked a couple of days totaling six to eight hours at Kitchen Local each week while her children are in school. She is planning ahead to make a serious run at expanding her business.
“I booked time for an event I’m catering in October, and Lisa said, ‘Is that a typo?’ ” Habib said with a laugh.