Union Kitchen: A cooking space for start-ups

(Jeffrey MacMillan/ For The Washington Post ) - Ed Cornell, owner of Cult Milk, examines some of his treatsat Union Kitchen.

(Jeffrey MacMillan/ For The Washington Post ) - Ed Cornell, owner of Cult Milk, examines some of his treatsat Union Kitchen.

Jonas Singer, who owns the Blind Dog Cafe, a pop-up eatery in Northwest Washington, has been hearing about the challenges to D.C. food entrepreneurs for years.

“We heard over and over again how hard it is to find a kitchen in the city that’s reasonable and affordable,” he said.

How D.C.’s food entrepreneurs are getting businesses off the ground

How D.C.’s food entrepreneurs are getting businesses off the ground

City law requires bakers and cooks to prepare food in commercial kitchens. So foodies on a start-up budget have had to get creative to find a place to work.

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In response, Singer started Union Kitchen, a shared commercial cooking space in a Northeast Washington warehouse in December.

The 7,300-square-foot space is rented out to about 30 bakers and chefs, who come in to prepare food according to their own schedules. Singer said many members only plan to work out of the kitchen for a few months or a year, until they generate enough capital to open their own place.

Members pay about $1,000 a month on average — the basic fee is $450 a month, with additional charges for storage space, table space and parking. Union Kitchen covers the main services, including most cooking equipment, pest control, linen service and cleaning.

Equipped with a security system, the facility is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

Singer and his team interview each potential applicant to make sure members are diverse, and that food products will be of high quality. They negotiate distribution channels for members, such as farmers markets and local stores, including Washington’s Green Grocer and online grocer Relay Foods. They also bargain with vendors for wholesale prices on common items or ingredients used by many Union Kitchen members — fish, meat, dairy and cleaning supplies, for example.

Union Kitchen houses a few non-food businesses, such as a bookkeeper and graphic designer, of whose services Singer said he hopes the members take advantage.

“If our members are floundering, it’s not a good representation of Union Kitchen,” Singer said.

In its first few months, Union Kitchen is already profitable — though Singer and his partners have yet to recoup their initial investment. Membership covers all monthly costs, including rent, which totals about $25,000 a month. Singer said he plans to create additional revenue streams other than membership, such as cooking classes, supper clubs and space rentals.

— Mohana Ravindranath

 
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