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Kitchen Connect will help launch new triple-bottom-line food start-ups

FoodLab Detroit is a network of triple-bottom-line food businesses in Detroit, founded by Jess Daniel, a Local Economy Fellow at Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. FoodLab launched in 2011 and has become a significant resource for food start-ups in the city, a place where entrepreneurs can share information, resources, provide mutual support, and learn how to balance their triple-focus businesses.  
 
One of the unique functions of FoodLab has been inadvertently performing is that of an informal connector between entrepreneurs and commercial kitchens in the city that will allow small start-up food businesses to use their space to make their products, a necessity for many of the food start-ups that aren't classified as cottage industry (the Cottage Food Law specifically excludes all items made with dairy and other products like salsa, pickles, and barbecue sauce) and for those that need more space than a home kitchen provides. From this emerging need for rentable commercial kitchen space, Kitchen Connect was born.
 
Daniel says that they were fielding inquiries both from entrepreneurs as well as churches and community organizations with kitchens that they wanted to open up for entrepreneurs to use. "We found out that it's pretty difficult," says Daniel. "A lot of these community organizations can't be there to open and close the doors, haven't necessarily thought through insurance or making sure their kitchen is up to code, or what to do if someone leaves it a mess. Over time the kitchen realizes, 'Oh, you've been using our hood and now utilities have gone up and you're only paying this much; we can't afford it,' and kick them out."
 
Kitchen Connect eliminates all of that by working with two partner community kitchens: St. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Southwest Detroit and Matrix Human Services in Osborn. These community kitchens in Detroit neighborhoods act as a preamble to the community kitchen that will open next year in Shed 5 in Eastern Market, which just received a $1 million grant from the MEDC. "These are community-driven spaces," says Devita Davison, Community Kitchen Coordinator at Eastern Market Corporation. "To be partnering with two kitchens that understand the power of community and bring folks together – I couldn't ask for better partners."
 
Kitchen Connect is a collaboration between Eastern Market, the fiduciary partner, and FoodLab, which is handling all technical assistance. They are also working with the city to show off the growing good food economy (and, ideally, make it easier for more businesses to launch). Davison references the 119 products from Michigan vendors on the shelves of the new Whole Foods Market, and emphasizes the need for our entrepreneurs to be able to utilize commercial kitchens and have that kind of opportunity.
 
Kitchen Connect is an incubator of sorts, but once the spaces are activated they will have additional programming, offering community cooking classes and other workshops, even host pop-ups. The partner kitchens also provide people in their respective communities access to a commercial kitchen, which might not have otherwise been easily accessible if they had been limited to the sort of usual suspect hubs (Midtown et.al.). "(Kitchen Connect) speaks to entrepreneurship opportunities that may open up to folks local in their own neighborhood," Davison says. Daniel adds, "A lot of the entrepreneurs we work with have issues with access. (Kitchen Connect) also means there are these hubs of incubation activity in a lot of different spaces."
 
They will start accepting applications at the end of June and will celebrate with a launch party on July 22.
 
Source: Jess Daniel, Founder of Foodlab and Local Economy Fellow at Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, and Devita Davison, Community Kitchen Coordinator at Eastern Market Corporation
Writer: Nicole Rupersburg

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