LOUISVILLE — After participating in the community open house April 11 at Chef Space, Louisville’s first kitchen incubator in the Russell neighborhood, Ben Shaffar came away impressed with the new Kentucky Proud member.
“I think the project has real potential for Kentucky farmers and Kentucky Proud,” said Shaffar, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s director of business development. “We will be working with the innovators to help them connect with Kentucky farmers and distributors.”
“I’ve met with their leadership team, and I’m definitely enthused,” said Roger Snell, the KDA’s farm-to-retail liaison. “To have a certified kitchen that meets health standards is a great thing. That’s what’s encouraging to me.
“I talked to them about how our grants could help. If it has Kentucky farm impact, our grants can help them with labeling their products for retail with UPC [Universal Product Code] and bar codes.
“Some of them are selling at farmers’ markets, but Ben and I could help them with our retail contacts,” Snell added. “Ben and I are hoping to help guide them on the next step to retail.”
Snell was impressed with the fully-equipped professional kitchen’s huge modern ovens, large mixers, and other state-of-the-art commercial equipment. The only thing missing is for the 20 entrepreneurs that currently rent Chef Space to source some of their raw ingredients from Kentucky farms.
“There’s a lot of potential there,” Snell said. “If farmers in and around Louisville have products they want to add value to, it’s a great facility.”
Open house celebrates facility's launch
At a celebratory open house in April, Chef Space President Chris Lavenson hosted a tour of the facility that included Shaffar, Congressman John Yarmuth, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, and other local officials and leaders.
“We want to add to Louisville’s already vibrant food scene by creating a community of like-minded entrepreneurs dedicated to producing top-notch products,” Lavenson said in a news release about the open house.
The facility, which broke ground on a $4.5 million renovation last June, is owned by Community Ventures, a non-profit organization based in Lexington.
“Chef Space … will give Louisvillians the opportunity to make their dreams a reality,” Kevin Smith, Community Ventures’ chief executive officer, said in the news release.
Chef Space definitely lives up to its name with 13,356 square feet that can accommodate up to 50 entrepreneurs of all stages of development to prepare and distribute their own creations.
“During normal working hours, there are no less than four or five different entrepreneurs in here all the time,” said Andrew Held, a consultant for Jay’s 120 Cafeteria located in the prime space just inside the front door at 1812 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd.
“There was a cafeteria here for 30-40 years,” Held said, noting it was called Jay’s Café. “This was the center of the West End community for years until it closed eight years ago.
“It’s a really cool story, rejuvenating an area,” he added. “The mission is to try to deliver fresh, healthy food to an underserved area. There are only three non-fast food restaurants in a five-square-mile radius from Chef Space.”
Membership plans start as low as $600 per month. In addition to offering kitchen space, Chef Space also offers business support and start-up consulting as part of the membership. Consulting services offered include marketing, access to accelerator retail opportunities, Farm to Shelf programming, and local ingredient sourcing.
“It’s a beautiful facility and has so much space to grow,” said Jerrica Tinsley, owner of Norma Jean’s Baked Goods, named after her grandmother. “I also appreciate all of the assistance Chef Space offers to its members. Everyone here has been so nice and helpful.”
Visit finds busy entrepreneurs
Three entrepreneurs were in the kitchen crafting their culinary creations during an impromptu visit on a recent Friday afternoon.
Tinsley and Ernesia Reese were busy making $5 cakes. Using grape soda, they made a Purple Rain cake in honor of singer/musician Prince, who died in April. They also made caramel cakes to sell at Grady’s Bar & Grill in nearby Old Louisville.
“I would love to distribute my product across the country … maybe even around the world!” Tinsley said.
Norma Jean’s other cake flavors include: banana pudding cake, Caribbean Crunch, strawberries n’ cream, Run for the Roses, strawberry, and strawberry lemonade.
Another cake maker, Sarah Allgeier of DelectaBites, was concentrating to put an intricate icing design on a blue sheet cake.
“Chef Space provides me the stability to work and grow my business full-time,” Allgeier said, noting her dream is “to see my products hit grocery shelves across the country.”
Allgeier also makes cookies and cake bites, which are similar to cupcakes.
The smoky aroma of barbecue ribs grilling atop a hickory wood fire wafted into the kitchen when Lucretia Thompson opened the back door. Out back, her 70-year-old uncle, Gary Thompson, was checking and turning dozens of racks of pork ribs roasting atop the grate of a huge 47-year-old homemade grill.
Gary was sharing his half-century of grilling expertise with his niece, owner of Lucretia’s Kitchen. The ribs were for a catering job that she had booked for the next day.
“I’m aiming to own a restaurant [and sell] specialty retail products and locally-distributed home-cooked meals,” Lucretia said. “Chef Space gives me the flexibility to explore all my options at the same time.”
Gary formerly ran Mr. Thompson’s Old Recipe-style BBQ restaurant, which he claims was named “the first and only four-star rated barbecue in Louisville” by the 1975 edition of the book “Where To Eat in America” by William Rice, Burton Wolf, and Barbara Goldman.
“He holds the secrets,” Lucretia said, smiling. “It’s an honor that the secrets have been shared with me.”
“My dad had me cooking ever since I was 17 or 18,” Gary said, wiping sweat from his brow. “It’s been in the blood forever; we’re just carrying it on.”
Other Chef Space entrepreneurs include: Caldwell’s Quirky Cookery, Dippin’ Sisters, Elixer Kombucha, Em’s Delights, Farm to Baby Louisville, Gmeals, Grasshoppers, Kentucky Cultured, Louisville Collegiate School’s Sage Catering, Marination Catering, Seductively Sweet Confections, The Missing Link, That’s My Jam, V-Grits, and Younique Soul.
For more information on Chef Space, visit www.ChefSpace.org.