FEATURE: Commercial Kitchen Incubates Food Startups
You have an idea for a food startup, but you need an affordable commercial kitchen space to test your concept. There are only a few places in OC you can go for that.
One is in Santa Ana. It’s East End Kitchens and it’s from the same father-son real estate team – Irving Chase and his son, Ryan — that created the 4th Street Market food hall. They’re one of the biggest property owners in the downtown Santa Ana core. Their family real estate business is S&A Management, with HQ in Costa Mesa.
The kitchen space wasn’t originally planned to be part of the food hall. But it was created through the same lens that the Chases viewed the food hall.
“As our opening team worked through all the moving parts, we felt it was an integral part of the culinary world, and wanted to encourage startup and entrepreneurial businesses, like we did within 4th St Market,” Ryan Chase told OC Startups Now.
Making Entry Easier
4th St Market was also designed in a way to eliminate barriers to entry, Chase added.
“We saw a disconnect in the market between young entrepreneurs with good ideas, and the capital and wherewithal to open a brick-and-mortar,” he said. “So we built out spaces and structured leases in a way that allowed them to move in.”
To Each Their Own
For the kitchen space, S&A Management built out varied work areas for fledgling foodie entrepreneurs in an area adjacent to the food hall. There are six independent spaces; two gluten-free independent spaces; and one confectionery kitchen space. All are accessible 24/7. There’s a variety of equipment options depending on what’s needed. Most of the entrepreneurs are creating prepared meals, doing catering or preparing items for farmers markets.
The entire kitchen area and each individual “workbay” has been approved by the city and the county health department, Ryan Chase said.
The entrepreneurs are responsible for paying a base rent and utilities within the space they use. The kitchens are rented by the hour ($30/hour during peak times and $25/hour for off- peak times).
Payment is through an online system, with users renting by the hour with minimal commitment. S&A Management offers discounted rates for low-income users.
“We want to encourage food entrepreneurs to get out of their houses and start their businesses,” Ryan Chase said. “The easier it is to do, the more that will do it. We also can help prospective tenants through the application process, including the health department.”
Filling a Void
East End Kitchens opened in 2015, along with the entirety of the food hall.
There are other commercial kitchen spaces in OC, but the Chases believe theirs is the most “startup-heavy.” Most of the other kitchens are in industrial areas, Ryan Chase said, noting that theirs is in “the heart of downtown Santa Ana.”
That gives their entrepreneurs exposure and also “allows (them) the ability to get more involved in the local foodie community — in a collaborative environment, whether through special events, farmers markets or sampling products in our onsite market, Alta Baja,” he said.
While East End Kitchens has individual spaces, many other commercial kitchens use shared spaces. East End also has a basement commissary for dry/cold/ freezer storage; a packaging room; a business center with copy and fax machines; and a studio kitchen for demos/classes/events.
There’s an on-site inventory manager to take care of deliveries. S&A Management also provides marketing and public relations.
Partnership with Accelerator
East End Kitchens has a partnership with Food Centricity, an accelerator in L.A. for early-stage food companies.
The accelerator is in the L.A. Prep building in the Lincoln Heights. Food Centricity founder and CEO Michel Algazi is one of the co-founders of L.A. Prep.
To date, none of the startups at East End Kitchens has migrated to Foodcentricity. But Algazi said he’s referred a few that aren’t ready for his accelerator to East End Kitchens.
Algazi said East End Kitchens is “very well planned and practical and flexible.”
“It has storage space and an underlying infrastructure that’s more robust than average,” he said. “You can get your concept to a stage where it’s poised for rapid growth.”
About 25 entrepreneurs are currently using the East End Kitchen spaces.
The biggest success has been Model Meals, Ryan Chase said. The organic meal delivery service started about two years ago doing 40 meals per week. It’s now creating a whopping 5,000 meals per week. It’s expanded throughout California and to Phoenix, with plans to open several other kitchens across the U.S. soon.
Model Meals has been self funded since the business started, co-founder Camille May said.
“So not having to take on the financial burden of a commercial kitchen build-out has allowed us to reinvest our profits back into the business and into things like growing our team, marketing and research & development,” she said. “The flexibility of the physical layout has also been an important factor to our success.”
Model Meals started out with an hourly kitchen rental at East End Kitchens for essentially two days per week, adding kitchen space and storage as the business grew. Eventually it signed a longer-term lease at the facility.
Another success is California Creationz, a catering company, which started at East End Kitchens and ultimately grew into its own facility in Santa Ana.
“It’s amazing to see a business start at ground zero and watch them grow to the point of outgrowing our facility,” Ryan Chase said.