“Making food from scratch and selling it on a small scale is one of the simplest and oldest business models. But it isn’t that simple to get a food venture off the ground. Financial barriers to entry include expensive commercial kitchen spaces and equipment. Bureaucratic impediments include licensing and permits. A lack of experience, savvy, and connections compound the challenge, of course, preventing many food lovers from taking the plunge to become food entrepreneurs.
Iso Rabins would know—his attempts to break into San Francisco’s food scene were foiled from the get-go. Farmers markets turned him away when he offered to sell foraged mushrooms. He ended up “cold-calling chefs and knocking on the back door of restaurants.” In 2008, Rabins founded ForageSF, a social enterprise to support the city’s foraging scene. The group began hosting the Underground Market, a food market for shoppers willing to take a risk on food prepared outside a commercial kitchen. The market exploded in popularity, with hundreds of vendors and tens of thousands of participants. Then, San Francisco’s Department of Public Health issued them a cease-and-desist last year.
Now Rabins and ForageSF are back with a new project called Forage Kitchen, a physical home for San Francisco’s craft food scene—everyone from aspiring entrepreneurs to hobbyists. Currently in its Kickstarter phase, if funded the kitchen will become the first coworking space for craft food and a much needed “venue for small food producers to get their start without having to pay all the fees,” says Rabins.”
Fascinating article on the SF food scene. I remember reading about their “Underground Market” last year and wishing we had such a thing here. So was very sorry to learn that the SF Department of Public Health had shut them down.
I was talking to a nonprofit developer recently about the possibility of putting a commercial kitchen into the low income housing project they were working on. It seemed to me that it could have great benefit both to the residents and to potential “food entrepreneurs” in that neighborhood. While my developer friend agreed that the kitchen was a great idea and could be a tremendous benefit, it wasn’t something she could do because if she added a commercial kitchen to the space, it would cause the per hour labor costs for the build to go to a much, much higher level—like from $15 per hour to $30 per hour. And not just while the kitchen was being constructed–those higher rates would be in effect for the entire build. So even though the kitchen would be a great asset and could help some of the residents/neighbors build a business to support themselves and their families, it was “off the table” as an option.
There has to be a way around this problem; a way to make growing a new food business affordable for people with dreams and talents, but little means. I know there are people trying to work on this problem here in Portland and I very much hope they succeed. In the meantime, budding food entrepreneurs will need to keep looking for a cost-effective way to bring their food to market.