A modest building at the corner of West Broadway and Fremont Avenue North houses more than just kitchen equipment and a very large, very chilly freezer. The dreams of budding food entrepreneurs live there among the shiny pots and pans at a place called Kindred Kitchen, an incubator kitchen program that allows potential bakers, chefs, and even dog-food producers to fine-tune their products and decide if the food business is the career for them.
But for Kindred Kitchen program manager Terese Hill (below), participants don’t just benefit from the workshops the program offers on food safety, business planning and financing, marketing research and strategy, among others. The kitchen’s location itself provides another valuable lesson — that North Minneapolis isn’t just the rundown, tornado- and crime-ravaged neighborhood you see on TV.
“I think it’s important to have people from all over the Twin Cities come here and get the idea of what North Minneapolis really is – a vibrant, amazing community with so many cultures,” Hill says.
That’s what the non-profit Catalyst Community Partners had in mind when it launched Kindred Kitchen last fall. Though the kitchen itself is a for-profit organization, all its profits go back into the community in the form of scholarships for area residents to participate in the 15-week series of workshops it holds twice a year. In addition to the classes, the organization rents its kitchen space to food-truck chefs and other food businesses in hopes of creating more jobs in North Minneapolis.
The heart of Kindred Kitchen, however, are the workshops, and Heavy Table recently spoke with three women who recently finished the full series and are intent on launching their own food businesses. Though they acknowledge a tough road ahead of them, the entrepreneurs are buoyed by their Kindred Kitchen education and confident that the training will benefit their endeavors.
Last spring, Pam Jonkman of Wayzata took a leave of absence from her teaching career to stay home with her young daughter and decided to see if her homemade granola would have a fan base outside her own kitchen. A successful summer at a local farmers market indicated there was a demand for her product – which she named How Granola! – but at the end of the season she was at a crossroads. Fortuitously, WCCO-TV aired a segment on the newly launched Kindred Kitchen, and Jonkman knew it was a sign: “It was like it was just given to me on where I needed to go and do.” She registered for one workshop and ended up completing the entire series.
“You get the secrets of working in a food business before you even start and stumble along the way,” Jonkman says. “You start the classes with an idea of where you want to go, and every step of the way you learn maybe that’s not where you really wanted to go.”
Courses on marketing, licensing, packaging, labeling, and buyer relations “steered me where I needed to be,” she adds. The education helped her expand How Granola! to three markets this year in Edina, Hopkins, and Watertown, with dreams of moving into retail businesses in the future.
“I would like to be in smaller mom-and-pop shops and eventually get to corporate gifts and fundraising,” Jonkman says. “But [Kindred Kitchen] taught us we need to prioritize. That’s partly why our goals continue to change – because you get to a point and realize you don’t want to go in that direction.”
The seeds of Lynette Coleman’s food business were planted long ago, when her youngest son, now 16, did what many young kids do — refused to eat his vegetables.
“He would starve [if I served him vegetables], but he would eat pizza, burgers, hot dogs,” Coleman recalls. “So I decided to make this pie with ground turkey and vegetables and you could pick it up like a pizza.”
The nutrient-rich pizza did the trick, and soon the Brooklyn Park stay-at-home-mom found her friends and neighbors clamoring for her menu of pies, which include pecan, peach cobbler, sweet potato, and caramel apple crisp. She toyed with the idea of going into business for some time, even taking an entrepreneurship class at the University of St. Thomas, but found it wasn’t food-focused enough to give her the information she needed. In the meantime, Coleman sold her pies to the Minnesota Vikings, area delis, and at her Curves gym’s holiday boutique, where she went through 200 pies in a single week.
“I couldn’t keep pies there the whole week. I thought maybe this is something,” she says.
A girlfriend saw an article about Kindred Kitchen in the Star Tribune the day after Thanksgiving 2010, and Coleman called the following Monday. A month later, she found herself in her native North Minneapolis beginning the winter / spring workshop series.
“It was scary but exciting, and they helped me every step of the way. It was very nice to get the secrets [of the food business],” she says. “At the end of the night, I wasn’t ready for it to be over.”
The workshop helped Coleman create a legal, licensed business called the Pie Nettework, and she’s hoping to get her pies – particularly the turkey pot pie – in enough stores that she can eventually open her own takeaway deli. For now, she’s increasing demand for her pies by participating in local fundraisers and keeping in touch with her Kindred Kitchen friends.
“Kindred Kitchen is excited about us and what we do. It’s been fun.”
A study-abroad program in the Netherlands introduced St. Paul’s Janell Draper to the country’s sweet tradition – stroopwafels. The sugary wafer sandwiches with a caramel-like filling are an addictive street snack that are ubiquitous there but can be hard to find in the United States.
“[In the Netherlands] there someone’s making them fresh the size of your face and small ones to take home,” Draper says. “But you can’t find them around here, and everyone who has them wants them, so I said I should provide them to people.”
First practicing on a pizzelle iron, Draper upgraded to a stroopwafel iron and perfected her recipe. (“A few friends and family got to eat a lot until I got it right.”) The raves and requests kept pouring in and made Draper, who has a day job as a school cook, think about creating a true stroopwafel operation. Google searches for a commercial kitchen led her to Kindred Kitchen, and after attending a pre-workshop mixer, she knew she had found the help she needed to get her business, called Toffee Waffles, started.
“On my drive home, I was so excited, I don’t even know how I got home,” she laughs. “It’s been useful for grounding me in the reality of it. I didn’t know anyone else running a food business, and I didn’t know if my ideas were crazy or realistic.”
Though she cherished the advice from all the Kindred Kitchen instructors, Draper cites Meg Dhamer, the creator of the Chicago-based Pigtale Twist salad dressings and sauces, as the one who provided the most valuable lesson.
“Meg told me to be careful not to grow too quickly and be careful not to take on too much too quickly,” Draper says. “I don’t take on orders for which I don’t have the money for the ingredients. I don’t want to sacrifice quality for quantity.”
It doesn’t take more than a few seconds for Coleman and Jonkman to quickly identify their top takeaways from the program.
“[Instructor] Yolanda [Cotterall] told us to ask for half of the money down when you get a big order,” Coleman says. “It makes sense, but I hadn’t thought of that before.”
“Zoie Glass [of Lucille’s Kitchen Garden] said farmers markets are a great place to start because you get so much feedback. If I had gone straight to a supermarket, I would have bombed. You can get a certain honesty from farmers market customers – it helps you grow. I’ve created new flavors and recipes based on what people have told me,” Jonkman adds.
Listening to the feedback from Kindred Kitchen “graduates,” Hill can’t help but smile.
“Kindred Kitchen will be a hub of food entrepreneurship in North Minneapolis,” she says with pride.
Kindred Kitchen still has several openings for its fall workshop series; scholarships are available. The organization is also sponsoring a Food Truck Taste-a-Thon fundraiser on Thursday, Aug. 4 from 5 to 8pm at 1210 W Broadway. Proceeds from the sales of the $15 wristbands benefit Kindred Kitchen, Catalyst Community Partners and participating North Minneapolis businesses.