Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Another reason for creating a commercial kitchen at Florida Market (or Eastern Market for that matter)

Cross-posted from Capital City Market

In the "Retail planning and Florida Market" paper, I suggested food-related business development operations beyond straight up restaurants and retail be incorporated into the planning mix for the retail-wholesale food district. From the document:

Depending on the scope of work for the Small Area Plan, other opportunities could be identified as well, spanning retail, entrepreneurship development, and civic use. These include:

• home meal preparation and assembly (franchise programs such as Let’s Dish or Thyme Out);
• commercial kitchen rentable to caterers and food processors (examples include La Cocina in San Francisco and the Artisan Baking Center in New York City);
• demonstration and training kitchen for commercial and public use, i.e., programs by the Office of Aging, Department of Health, Cooperative Extension Service of UDC/USDA, schools (examples include La Boqueria in Barcelona, and two separate facilities at the River Market in Little Rock);
• hospitality-culinary education.

So today's article in the Washington Post food section about an underground market "DC Grey Market: An underground opportunity for vendors"), which is "underground" because vendors sell food items not prepared in a commercial kitchen, is a confirmation of the need to provide low cost commercial kitchen options as a form of entrepreneurship and business development programming on the part of the city--it demonstrates demand, and it's a lot better to provide such facilities rather than discourage people from doing it properly (in supervised, clean facilities).

From the Post article:

Like many of the vendors at the market, not to mention at similar underground markets popping up around the country, none of the three men had acquired business licenses or submitted to food-safety inspections.

Shapiro said the market’s lack of a licensing requirement was a big draw for him. “Everything I have here is totally safe,” he said. “My kitchen is invariably cleaner than most restaurant kitchens.”

That the sales technically are not regulated seems only to heighten the allure. New vendors have enlisted for each of the three DC Grey markets held to date. Attendance has ranged from 355 to 1,100.

Still, someone can say his home kitchen is cleaner than restaurant kitchens and that may be, but it's unlikely a home kitchen is kept to food processing and manufacturing cleanliness standards.

It happens that I liked a Mexican restaurant in Pontiac Michigan called Trini & Carmen's. Back in the late 1970s, in a place like Oakland County there weren't many such options. That being said, in 1977, botulism in home-canned peppers that were used in some of the dishes sickened 59 people. (How else would I have heard of the restaurant, they didn't advertise...) Fortunately, no one died.

There's no way that the city's regulatory authorities won't shut this down, after being prominently pictured on the front page of the Food Section. But the real point, that we need an entrepreneurship support network generally, and for food preparation specifically, will likely get missed. The San Francisco Weekly stepped up with a 6-part article series after the shutdown of the underground market called "Going legit."

While this report, Local Food Systems Assessment for Northern Virginia, from August 2010 is about "food hubs," which are aggregation operations for local farmers seeking to sell food in quantity to restaurants, food service operations (like schools), supermarkets, and other institutional clients, the basic concept is comparable to a commercial kitchen operation.

WRT the job generating possibilities of such operations, this article from the New York Daily News, "Cooking up job training in Long Island City" discusses the Artisan Baking Center in New York City, and "Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar" in the San Francisco Chronicle and these blog entries from Cool Hunting and Munchie Musings discuss La Cocina, how the organization grew out of a need by food vendors for better support facilities, and how the organization has a selling space in the Ferry Building, among other venues.

The Munchie Musing post makes a good point, that helping businesses develop isn't just about the kitchen, it's also about managing the licensing and vending process. From the post:

La Cocina provides this type of support for people who are looking to start some sort of food business. Their building contains a commercial kitchen which is a requirement for making and selling foods. Besides the physical space, they also provide support in the form of assistance with permits, funding, source vendors, etc. With this support, people, mostly women, are able to start legitimate businesses, create jobs, and support themselves, their families and communities.

Other resources include the National Street Food Conference 2011 later this month in San Francisco and the Culinary Incubator website.

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