A Kitchen In Common
One morning during the early autumn of 2009, Linda Gilkerson woke up from a dream with one word in her mind: cupcakes.
Gilkerson had always been passionate about small business ownership when she ran a nonprofit focused on training budding entrepreneurs. But while lately exploring opportunities herself, nothing seemed to stick.
It wasn't long before she realized that making and selling cupcakes as a business venture required commercial-grade equipment, proper licenses and enough space for production. At the same time, Gilkerson knew some of her colleagues sought something similar: a place where food-centric startups could rent a top-notch kitchen and spin their dream ideas into official businesses without much overhead.
Cupcakes became just a footnote to Gilkerson's story.
Today, she runs Indy's Kitchen, the commercially licensed shareduse kitchen that she opened in July 2010 near 25th Street and Central Avenue. It houses roughly 35 tenants, including bakers, caterers, cooking instructors, food truck operators and farmers' market vendors. They pay $14–$24 an hour to use the space, which is outfitted with the likes of a 30-quart mixer and a 10-burner gas range.
Inside is a controlled chaos of slicing, chopping, baking, sautéing and frying. In this professional-grade kitchen, people know how to make the most of the space they're given: The walls are lined with tenants' supplies, and professional respect prevents any sugar theft.
"If someone didn't clean up after themselves, I'll usually get an email," Gilkerson says.
Beyond simply providing cooking space, Indy's Kitchen fosters a true food community.
"The people who use it are so respectful and so thankful we're here," Gilkerson says. Ironically, if a tenant leaves the kitchen, it's usually a good sign–it means they've outgrown the space. "It's this odd thing that I'm working with people to help them grow to the point where they're not my customers anymore."
Graduates, as Gilkerson calls them, include Kris Parmelee, owner of Avec Moi, a to-go and catering spot in Broad Ripple; Cara Dafforn, who has a line of slow-cooker mixes under the label U-Relish Farm; and Sonja Bannon, who makes Raw-To-Go snacks. Dafforn and Bannon have a stall at Indianapolis City Market.
While researching the shared kitchen concept around the country, Gilkerson found a café with a shared kitchen in Chicago that seemed like a good model. Two trips later, Gilkerson, her husband and two other business partners were convinced this was the idea they were looking for.
Indy's Kitchen has a similar partnership with Monon Coffee Company Downtown. A swinging door separates the two businesses.
When people rent kitchen space, they get access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Gilkerson keeps it easy: Tenants simply write in a calendar the times they need the kitchen, and she manages the schedule. The rental rates are structured so the more time you use, the less you pay.
With her background in small business, Gilkerson finds she's a mentor to some, but tries to take her own advice: "I tell startups, 'You have to do it consistently,' and we do everything we can to be the same way."
Even though they've been open a little more than a year, Gilkerson is already looking down the road. "The whole food truck thing is going to be interesting to watch," she said. As the mobile food industry grows, so could the demand for Indy's Kitchen's limited space. "It's going to be a challenge keeping everyone happy and have enough space for all the other stuff it takes to run this."
Details: Indy's Kitchen, 2442 N. Central Ave.; 317- 690-9089; www.indyskitchen.com.
WHO'S COOKING IN INDY'S KITCHEN?
From caterers to food truckers, a variety of entrepreneurs have Indy's Kitchen in common. Here's a look at three of them, and how they use the space:
Becky's Healthy Kitchen | firstname.lastname@example.org
The name pretty much says it all. Becky Eaton offers healthy cooking classes, personal training services and meals to go. "My goal is to help teach people how to eat healthy food, using seasonal, affordable–and, when you can, local–ingredients," says Eaton, a part-time health coach for IU Health. She teaches a class the last Wednesday of each month that has featured "recipe makeovers," like taking your mom's pot roast and kicking it up with buffalo sauce.
Duos Indy | duosindy.com
When your food business is on four wheels, a separate professional kitchen is essential. And that's why Becky Hostetter hooked up with Indy's Kitchen, where she spends many hours making her menus come to life for her food truck, Duos. "I recently did a cherry conserve with Manchego cheese, ham and arugula, and that was our carnivore sandwich for the week," she says. Fit for a restaurant, but made for your lunch break.
Fermenti Artisan | facebook.com/fermentiartisan
The guys at Fermenti Artisan have a passion for freshness that's second to none. Josh Henson and Mark Cox run an urban farm on the Eastside and use Indy's Kitchen to process and prepare their cultured vegetables, which they sell at farmers' markets. "Our primary focus is gut health–teaching people how to heal their bodies through the food they eat," Cox says. The products that they do buy come directly from local farms and foster "a very, very personal relationship with our food."