Atlanta shared kitchens set stage to help micro food businesses

Regular readers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution may have noticed that, among the enhanced food and dining coverage this year, we launched two columns that shine a spotlight on local and regional products and the brains behind them.

"Stock Up," which runs in the Food section each Thursday, offers food and kitchen product recommendations. "Made in Georgia" appears monthly in the Dining page of Sunday's Living & Arts section, and gives a behind-the-scenes look at entrepreneurs shaping the area's food landscape. This month's featured producer is Clay Oliver, who produces cooking oils on Oliver Farms in southern Georgia.

Often these businesses are still in their infancy, selling product only at farmers markets or specialty shops kind enough to give them a wee bit of retail shelf space. With little money to spend on rent for their own spot, these businesses may make their product in shared kitchens where the overhead is less.

Banjo Cold Brew Coffee, featured in "Made in Georgia" this past May, works out of Shared Kitchens, a fully licensed, professionally equipped commercial kitchen at 215 Laredo Drive in Decatur, the first kitchen incubator in Georgia. Its 50 members include makers of food products for resale and wholesale as well as caterers who prepare hot food items. Among the unique services that Shared Kitchens offers is co-packaging services to help members get processing approvals and navigate the regulations of getting product to market as well as assist with sourcing ingredients, packaging, labelling and boxing.

There are other shared kitchens around Atlanta. Irwin Street Community Kitchen at 660 Irwin Street in the Old Fourth Ward has seen such users as King of Pops and Little Tart grow from tiny start-up to recognizable names in locally made frozen treats and baked sweets.

Prep Atlanta, which opened in 2014 near the intersections of Interstates 85 and 285, is a food business accelerator and shared kitchen facility that features commercial-quality, shared kitchen production spaces, food business growth resources, procurement and guidance to everyone from private chefs to bakers to food truck operators.

Prep can boast to having been a factor in the success of point to such users as Bellina Alimentari: The Italian restaurant and market at Ponce City Market developed some of its recipes and menu at Prep’s kitchen. Queen of Cream, the ice cream shop that opened in Old Fourth Ward last year, got its start at Prep, while cold brew coffee company Wanderlust has grown large enough to be moving into a production space of its own.

Also using kitchen space at Prep Atlanta is Cater Carts. Launched in September, Cater Carts is distinctive as a platform for local food start-ups because it is a co-op, whereby between several food microbusinesses partner to pool their food offerings for catering.

“It was started because shared kitchens are somewhat cost prohibitive to food start-ups,” said Cater Carts founder Harry Karambizi, who said that being a part of catered menus gives these tiny businesses valuable exposure.

Cater Carts currently counts among its members two hot dog vendors, Pop Dog and Nerd Dawgs as well as Latin-Asian fusion food business Chop Chop Next and 95th St. Tacos. Also noteworthy about its model is that it donates 25 percent of its profits to community projects and local nonprofits.

The most recent addition to the stock of shared kitchens in Atlanta is J's Kitchen Culinary Incubator. Doors unlocked at J's Kitchen, located at 3996 Pleasantdale Road in Doraville, on Oct. 27. The facility includes three regular kitchens, plus a baker's kitchen and a private master kitchen, and is equipped with such appliances as six-burger gas ranges, fryers and convection ovens along with 72-inch work tables. There are also walk-in freezers, coolers and dry storage areas.

The face behind J’s Kitchen is Jonnetta Patton, former CEO of celebrity management company JPat Management. Patton has nearly two decades of experience as a business executive in the music and entertainment industry, including managing her famous sons, James Lackey and Usher. Patton came out of retirement to start this new venture, turning the space that was formerly Lackey’s production studio and where Usher conducted business into this incubator.

Patton’s vision for J’s Kitchen is not only to provide fledgling food businesses, catering companies and private chefs with 24-hour access to certified commercial kitchen work space, but also to support all facets of their businesses.

This facility includes office amenities like conference rooms and computer work stations where users can manage operations, as well as a tasting room where potential customers can sample goods.

J’s Kitchen will also offer a curriculum of educational workshops designed to foster business management skills and provide resources in areas such as accounting, marketing, business and labor law, venture capital funding and franchising.

Workshops will also be available for culinary skills development at both the professional and food enthusiast levels, with classes led by Daryl Shular, a master chef certified by the American Culinary Federation and executive chef and director of operations for the Atlanta Athletic Club.

Mizell’s Cuisine, Tropical Delights Catering and Southern Culture Foods are among the first to sign up to use J’s Kitchen’s services. Will they become household names like Famous Amos, Jimmy Dean or Mrs. Fields?

That’s the goal.

“We want to help them become great success stories,” Shular said.