19 Sep LTFF Blog: Community at Kitchen 66
By Robbie Wing, Kitchen 66 Program Director
One thing that is always evident at Kitchen 66 is that food has a way of bringing people together. While we offer several resources for new food entrepreneurs including sales opportunities and business training, possibly the most important thing we offer is a space that builds community and a place to connect.
One business owner at Kitchen 66 has worked in kitchens all over the country for the past twenty years, and says that Kitchen 66 is the best kitchen she has ever worked in. She shared that the reason she feels that way is that everyone is their own boss, and everyone is there to help. When Kitchen 66 has a “full kitchen” at K66, it is not just one restaurant owner’s staff — it is 5 or 6 individual entrepreneurs working side by side to develop their own concepts. Each entrepreneur is working on a different project and preparing their food to take to a different outlet to sell. No one is there to micromanage the entrepreneurs’ process – but they are there to support and collaborate with each other.
It can be a difficult and scary decision to choose to go out on your own and form your own business. It may even be more difficult and scary when you choose to start a food business, specifically. There is so much work that goes into it because you have to wear multiple critically important hats, from being the person running the numbers to being the person actually taking the food out of the oven. Because of this challenge, the support of others in the form of a community is essential for success and survival. At Kitchen 66, you are no longer alone in your decision to pursue being an entrepreneur. You are validated in your decision by the other business owners that you are cooking near and learning from, as you all go through the process of learning and building together.
In my role, I am at the kitchen every day, and it is rewarding to see our community in action. It is not uncommon to see a chef walking around around the kitchen asking people to taste his or her latest batch and asking for feedback. You will see two business owners in the storage area discussing the best ways to package and transport food. My favorite moments are when I hear someone say, “Hey, I am going to the store – do you still need more salt? I can pick it up for you.”
People often say to me, “You must get to try a lot of food working a Kitchen 66,” and yes, it is true. While the food is almost always extremely good, the best part of getting to taste someone’s food is that I am getting to play a small role in helping a chef work out a problem. The chef is focused on what they are doing and they care enough about what they are producing that they want my extra opinion. A major benefit to having the community at Kitchen 66 is that there is always someone there to provide honest feedback.
The food entrepreneurs at Kitchen 66 come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some have spent their whole working careers in the back of house cooking and preparing food. Others have spent their lives working desk jobs and are just starting to venture into pursuing their passions and getting into a commercial kitchen. The thing that connects everyone of these various backgrounds is a deep, underlying passion for food, and a belief that they make food good enough to sell.
Our strong community does not just live within the walls of our shared kitchen. It is important to remember that having a shared-use kitchen in Tulsa contributes an extremely important piece of maintaining a thriving local food system. Our entrepreneurs are not just making products to sell — they also are feeding our community members and neighbors with those products and bolstering the local small business economy.
There is real beauty in the the fact that nearly all customer interactions happen face to face in a small-scale food business. The business owners that go to farmer’s markets, or go themselves to secure wholesale accounts stand behind their product – literally and figuratively. They take the time to explain their products to new customers, they tell their story and explain why you need their food. They explain what their product is, the process that goes into making it and the reason why they started their business (often at Kitchen 66).
Companies that produce out of Kitchen 66 get invaluable support from community members either in the form of purchases, mentorship or both. Tulsa’s appetite for and willingness to embrace new food businesses is another example of how food can increase vibrancy in a community. This is the cornerstone of what is so exciting about Kitchen 66 being located at the upcoming Mother Road Market, opening this fall. The intersection of Mother Road Market and Kitchen 66 will create a food-focused ecosystem that will be a place where people will come together with food and community on the brain. We can’t wait!