Shared-use commercial kitchen spaces, also known as commissionaires or kitchen incubators, play a vital role in the food economy by providing business development training, resources and access to affordable facilities, paving the way for the growth and expansion of local food entrepreneurs. These kitchen spaces provide access to health approved food manufacturing space and offer flexible membership plans, providing cost benefits for small businesses that may only need to use the facility for a short period of time and removing the burden for food entrepreneurs to purchase their own brick-and-mortar establishments.
For minority and women entrepreneurs, shared kitchen spaces play an integral part in small business growth. In a 2019 survey of shared kitchen incubators, 52% of tenants of shared kitchen spaces were women and in large metropolitan areas nearly 60% were people of color. Regarding the length of occupancy, 11% of tenants stayed between 1-5 months in shared kitchen spaces, while 66% stayed between 1-3 years and 14% longer than 3 years. The most cited reason (45%) businesses exited shared kitchen spaces was due to business closure. Access to working capital is a necessary hurdle for a small businesses’ ability to continue membership. The report cites the need for more direct investment and collaboration among facility operators, food entrepreneurs and technical assistance providers to ensure working capital, operation support and business development tailored to support small businesses owned by people of color, women, immigrants and refugees.
DC’s Department of Local and Small Business Development and the DC Food Policy Council’s Kitchen Connections matching program is an initiative that pairs food entrepreneurs with kitchen spaces in the District. This initiative supports the re-use of space, the development of affordable shared kitchens and the growth of food businesses in minority communities, ensuring that shared kitchens are accessible to those who need them most.
Here are some of the DC Women’s Business Center clients who are working to build and grow their small food businesses.
Simone is originally from Chicago where she grew up enjoying old-fashioned Chicago-style caramel and cheese popcorn. She wanted to share that experience with locals in DC so she conducted research to find the perfect kernel and the perfect taste. In 2018, she started District Pop as a part-time venture, offering free samples and filling orders for her friends and family. During the pandemic, like millions of women across the nation, she was furloughed from her full time job, and chose to go full speed ahead with her business venture. Despite the pandemic delaying her official launch due to her food business being higher risk, exactly one year later in April 2021, Simone joined Tastemakers, a commissary shared kitchen in the DC region, making it possible for her to use commercial cooking space and kitchen equipment all within her community. It enabled her to explore new popcorn varieties! District Pop’s hand crafted, small batch popcorn made from all natural premium butter and brown sugar can be ordered online or catered for fundraising and private events.
Lipinski initially was inspired to start her business while prepping meals for clients at the home health hospice she worked for in Vermont. After moving to DC and not being able to find work within her field, she decided she would start her own company, Elder Nourish. Not knowing the steps needed to start a business, Lipinski googled how to start a business in DC where she came across the DC Women’s Business Center. After scheduling an advising appointment with a small business counselor, step by step she developed a business plan, gained the proper protections, registrations and launched her small business. Her business initially only provided private chef services for her clientele, where she prepared customized meals for older adults. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, she no longer felt comfortable going into her clients homes and was quickly able to pivot her business and started prepping and cooking meals in Mess Hall, a shared commercial kitchen. “We are now based out of a commercial kitchen and that is where we do all the cooking, including washing and prepping vegetables.” Lipinski saw a lot of food businesses and caterers that shared the kitchen space go out of business during the pandemic, while only a few of the food businesses survived. Since then several new food businesses have joined the shared kitchen space.
Commercial Kitchen Spaces in the Washington, DC Metro Region
- The Kitchen Door is a resource to find licensed commercial and shared kitchen spaces for rent near you. Just enter your zip code: https://www.thekitchendoor.com/kitchen-rental/washington-dc/washington-dc/miles/20
- Mess Hall is a food incubator and startup studio born out of need for affordable commercial kitchen space in Washington, DC.
- LaCocinaVA is a culinary small business incubator in Arlington, VA that offers affordable membership packages in their shared kitchen space to eligible community members that own or operate food based businesses.
- Maryland Packaging offers a full size incubator kitchen to help start-up food businesses expand and grow.
- Tastemakers DC is a food incubator and community kitchen, bringing together the taste makers and taste testers of the food scene.
More resources for food entrepreneurs:
- Are you a woman-owned business in the food and beverage industry? Add your business to the James Beard Directory, here: https://www.jamesbeard.org/women-food-and-beverage-businesses
- DC Food Policy Council created a resource to find operating farms and health food stores in DC: https://dcfoodpolicy.org/resources/data-maps/
- Dreaming Out Loud supports economic empowerment and greater access to healthy food in the DC region through their advocacy work, farm and food hubs: https://dreamingoutloud.org/
- DC Women’s Business Center grant webpage for Food and Restaurant businesses: https://www.dcwbc.org/grant-opportunities-for-women-owned-businesses/
- D.C’s Food Access Fund will support eligible food businesses to expand their business by opening a new location in an area designated as having low access to food, priority will be given to food business locations in Ward 7 and Ward 8. Deadline is August 18. To learn more visit: https://dmped.dc.gov/node/1549526
The DC Women’s Business Center is a small business development organization focused on empowering women entrepreneurs in the DMV region to build and grow successful businesses. It is a program of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and funded in part by the Small Business Administration. To find your local Women’s Business Center or a resource partner near you please visit www.sba.gov/local-assistance.