Kitchen ‘incubator’ helps entrepreneurs begin food businesses

May 4, 2018, 6:38 PM | Updated: 9:50 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Most great business ideas start with a dream. Salt Lake City now has a new culinary incubator kitchen to help food entrepreneurs bring their simmering dreams to a boil.

Just south of Welfare Square at 751 West 800 South, the Square Kitchen provides cooking space, storage and expertise for great cooks who want to share their products.

“By eliminating the barriers to entry, limiting the funding that you need to kick start your business, we feel like we can help you get there in a more sustainable way.”

“We are all here to succeed and have our dreams come true,” says Jen Smith, who makes pierogies drawn from her own cultural fusion.

Jen Smith is half Polish, half Puerto Rican. She and her husband, Tyler, cook up Polarican pierogies for the Farmers Market in Salt Lake City.

“We have a line around the corner every time we’re there,” she says. “It’s overwhelming. We were blown away by the missionaries who come back from Poland or Puerto Rico and say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve been looking for this food since we got back from our mission and we’re so excited.'”

Whether it’s a food cart or a restaurant, starting a food business is challenging financially and logistically, she says. The Square Kitchen helps food entrepreneurs, like the Smiths, get their business cooking.

At the Square Kitchen, they can store food, cook up their pierogies in a commercial kitchen, and then sell them at the market. That cuts their costs and concerns.

“We are at ease knowing that nothing is going to go wrong,” she says. “They have everything together. Everything is clean. Everything is up to code.”

They reserve space at the Square Kitchen online, around the clock. Renting a cooking or prep station costs $14 to $25 an hour depending on the time of day you reserve.

“We have full-time jobs,” she said. “We can come after work. We can be here at two in the morning. We can do whatever we have to do to prepare for the market on Saturday.”

If the Smiths decide to expand to a food truck some day, the tools and expertise are at the Square Kitchen to help them make that move. They can even get help and advice from others in the growing food entrepreneur market in Salt Lake.

“There’s everyone from first-time market people, to people who have food trucks or restaurants,” she says. “We have access to all of that. We can get advice from anybody.”

“Starting a new food business is tough,” says Tham Sukoco, who co-owns the Square Kitchen with Ana Valdemoros. “Most of us fail within the first 2 to 3 years.”

In fact, two out of three food businesses fail in the first five years. The Square Kitchen aims to turn that around.

“By eliminating the barriers to entry, limiting the funding that you need to kick start your business, we feel like we can help you get there in a more sustainable way,” says Sukoco, who started his own food truck four years ago.

“There are a lot of people who have helped me and my partner throughout the years, and we just wanted to give that back to other businesses,” he says. “We are really hoping to help new businesses grow.”

The cooks in the Square Kitchen know their recipes. They just need a kitchen and help with the logistics.

“We can help them create a business plan, marketing, design, all kinds of things that probably aren’t things that they’re naturally good at,” says Bridget Stuchly, program manager for the Salt Lake City Sustainability Department.

“Starting a new food business is tough. Most of us fail within the first 2 to 3 years.”

The Salt Lake City Sustainability Department provided seed money for the owners: $375,000 in grant money, and a $250,000 loan to buy the property and equipment.

“It really is a strong economic driver for our local food system,” says Stuchly.

Today, 14 food businesses are using the kitchen, and they’ve had interest from more than 80 others. Check out squarekitchenslc.com for more information, or to reserve space.

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Kitchen ‘incubator’ helps entrepreneurs begin food businesses