In today’s economy, being a foodservice business owner and owning the facility might not always be concepts that go hand-in-hand. Whether yours is a start-up operation or your current one is so successful that it’s simply bursting at the seams, leasing kitchen space (or additional kitchen space) is a viable solution that you should consider. Yet, where to begin? What to consider when looking for a facility that will potentially be the new hub for your culinary genius?
To answer this question we interviewed the dynamic and enterprising husband and wife team of Dave and Carrie Hegnauer of The City Kitch, a business based out of Charlotte, NC, featured as our Business of the Week a few months back. After all, these are the experts who have spent years planning and refining their current concept to make it the success it is today.
We’ve summarized their advice for leasing commercial space into 7 questions:
The facility should be receiving good health scores from the local Dept. of Health. Since it is most likely that the inspectors will not only be inspecting the facility as a whole, but each operator’s space as well, starting in a facility with a poor health score will not bode well for your own scores.
2. Do you feel safe?
Since many caterers and food truck operators work odd hours, it is important to protect the trucks and equipment, as well as the safety of the occupants. Is the facility well-lit with plenty of safe parking? Are there security cameras throughout the building as well as outside the building which actually record footage 24 hrs a day?
3. What type of lease is offered?
Is it flexible enough to suit the needs of your business? If you need extra time away from your regular facility to work on recipe development, perhaps an hourly rental is all you need. If you’d like more privacy in your operation and want to have more control, perhaps a longer-term lease is best for you. With The City Kitch, they also lease out kitchen condos on one-year terms where clients can outfit their space with their choice of equipment. These units allow the client to do their work, lock up and “leave the work at work.”
4. Who manages the facility?
Who is running the facility is also an important point to think about. Are they experienced enough to help you with the Health Dept. if there are any concerns? A knowledgeable facility manager or management team can circumvent any health related problems before they manifest into a larger issue. Do they appear to be organized, do they keep and maintain meticulous HACCP records?
The infrastructure of the kitchen is of paramount importance to the Health Inspectors. Maintaining control of access to the kitchen is necessary to prevent overcrowding at any one time. Does the facility have any kind of reservation system in place? The City Kitch implements reservations for the shared-use area through an online client portal which also asks if any additional equipment is needed. That way, the space is never double-booked, is clean and ready. There should also be a system in place to make sure that equipment is being properly used and cleaned after each use.
Does the facility provide ample and top-of-the line equipment for your use? At The City Kitch, the common areas share stainless steel prep tables and access to a wide range of equipment—blenders, food processors, meat slicers, reach-in-coolers, walk-in coolers and dry storage shelving in a secured area to name a few. There are also 18 burner ranges, fryers, griddles and 10 gallon steam jacketed kettles as well as a 1500 lb. ice machine. Prep sinks, three-compartment sinks, handwashing sinks and dishwashing machines are also not to be overlooked essentials. For equipment brands—are they using reputable brands that you can trust? In this case, since Chef Carrie has been a culinary instructor at Johnson & Wales for over 20 years, when it came time to pick out her own equipment she relied on the best–Rational Combi ovens, Blodgett and Garland convection, Vulcan ranges, Traulsen refrigeration to name a few. When it came time to outfit their catering van (which is also available to rent out to clients), “Cambro was the only brand discussed. There was no second choice,” states Dave Hegnauer. Chef Carrie and Dave also chose to install rust-proof Camshelving Elements in their walk-ins with Shelf Dividers to give their clients better separation for their storage needs. “Cambro equipment was also purchased for our culinary education center because of their ability to stand up under use. They tend to last longer, clean easier and maintain their ‘newness’ much longer than anything else we’ve found,” the owners concur.
7. Any added benefits and resources available to help your operation?
Often lessees will be asked to provide their own cookware, sheet pans, tongs, spoons, etc. A good facility will have a company store that will be stocked with these items and basic dry goods so in a pinch, you can save time driving to get these necessities. Also, can the facility refer you to resources to help you run a successful business? After all, we know that being a good business owner involves a lot more than just being a good cook. The City Kitch strives to help streamline their client’s business by being a one-stop resource–providing info such as how to obtain kitchen permits, providing referrals for insurance, marketing, web development and even vehicle wraps!
So before you make that all important decision to commit to leasing a kitchen space, ask the right questions. If you’re not happy with any of the answers, keep moving on until you find the space that screams YES to you. After all, it’s a decision that will influence how you run your business and how it will fare for many years to come.
The City Kitch is ‘Where Charlotte Comes to Cook.’ It is a fully equipped, licensed and permitted commercial kitchen facility available for rent on an hourly or monthly basis. Here, in 12,000 s.f. of space, caterers, food trucks, bakers, personal chefs, non-profit meal providers and anyone else imaginable with a food-focused business gather to create, produce and learn about food and food safety. The City Kitch takes on a very chef-centric approach to its operation as the co-owner is none other than Chef Carrie Hegnauer—a highly credentialed and long-time Senior Culinary Instructor at the prestigious Johnson & Wales University. Chef Carrie directs all of the classes ranging from basic techniques, to Kids Camps, all the way to industry professional training including ServSafe. Her husband, an ingénue in marketing with a knack for creating successful businesses and turning around lagging businesses is the driving force behind the ops.