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Public Market's shared kitchen may get food startups cooking

| Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Kelly James, kitchen manager at the Pittsburgh Public Market poses at the market in the Strip District, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. Pittsburgh Public Market is working toward creating a shared use, fully licensed commercial kitchen. The Market Kitchen will be a fully licensed, multi station kitchen that is available for hourly rental by kitchen members, including bakers, caterers, specialty food producers, growers, cart vendors and food trucks.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Katie Wheeler, of Deutschtown and assistant marketing manger at the Pittsburgh Public Market tastes ice cream form Family Farms Creamery with her fiancé Larry Nesky, also of Deutschtown at the market in the Strip District, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. Pittsburgh Public Market is working toward creating a shared use, fully licensed commercial kitchen. The Market Kitchen will be a fully licensed, multi station kitchen that is available for hourly rental by kitchen members, including bakers, caterers, specialty food producers, growers, cart vendors and food trucks.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Jesus Martinez cooks at his stand, La Palapa Mexican Gourmet Kitchen at the Pittsburgh Public Market poses at the market in the Strip District, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. Pittsburgh Public Market is working toward creating a shared use, fully licensed commercial kitchen. The Market Kitchen will be a fully licensed, multi station kitchen that is available for hourly rental by kitchen members, including bakers, caterers, specialty food producers, growers, cart vendors and food trucks.

For aspiring chefs, it's not hard to whip up passion for their craft. However, finding funding to open a kitchen of their own can be a stickier situation.

To help budding cooks ease the stress of startup costs, Pittsburgh Public Market is launching Market Kitchen, a shared commercial cooking space, at its Strip District location.

“We all know the hardest part about starting a food business is getting the brick and mortar,” says Kelly James, kitchen manager of Pittsburgh Public Market, founded by Neighbors in the Strip. “It takes up so much money, and it puts you so far behind the eight-ball starting a business.

“This is so wonderful, because these businesses have a fully licensed kitchen to work out of.”

The kitchen, expected to open Sept. 15, was made possible thanks to $600,000 in funding secured through the Mary Hillman Jennings Foundation, the Allegheny County Development Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Community Services and a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $11,000 in July.

“Pittsburgh just rallied,” James says. “Pittsburgh is a great city for Kickstarter. Everyone wants to see everyone succeed.”

The space, behind a door in the corner of the market, will be rented out to small, start-up businesses certified by the Allegheny County Health Department on an hourly basis. It will feature walk-in coolers, combination and convection ovens, mixers and multiple work stations. The kitchen will be open 24 hours a day, every day.

The Market Kitchen will charge chefs $17.50 per hour through a pre-pay system. The shared space allows for two businesses to use it at once. Memberships are available for $100 a year, which gives access to the Pittsburgh Public Market's promotions, vendor space and other perks. Locked on-site storage is extra.

A second phase of the project will involve bringing the kitchen out into the market for cooking demos, classes and other projects.

“It's just a great opportunity for small businesses to start at their own pace and grow,” James says.

James has an intimate understanding of the challenges of small-business ownership. She owned Sugar Cafe, which lasted two years in Dormont before closing. She describes that time as “kicking and scratching every single day just to pay the electricity bill.”

“It was just so difficult,” she says. “Looking back, our business was successful; people loved it. It isn't enough. To pay that rent and to pay that loan back you built that kitchen from, it's so difficult, especially in the food business to make ends meet.”

She envisions Market Kitchen as helping entrepreneurs go on to open their own storefronts, while others might be content to use the kitchen for years to come. James already has a list of interested businesses, including Mix Salad Concept, founded by Rachael Bane and Lia Vaccaro. The company will offer on-site delivery of specialty salads to Pittsburgh-area businesses.

“We're really excited to be working with the Market Kitchen,” Bane says. “It feels like a great environment to be as food entrepreneurs.”

The Strip District location is ideal for the companies that intend to target businesses in the area. The ladies plan to use the kitchen about 20 hours a week and sell their salads Saturdays at the market.

“It's an ideal place for us,” Vaccaro says. “We think it's going to be a cool experience to work with other food businesses. This is a really cool way collaborate with other businesses in Pittsburgh.”

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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