How many Robin Doroshows are there out there? All due respect to Doroshow herself, there are plenty like her—people who’ve started food businesses in the past few years. Many made the move because there were downsized out of a job, as Doroshow was. Some are recent immigrants. Others are baby boomers following their heart’s desire in their retirement-cum-second-career years.
Last summer, Doroshow’s eye fell on a jar of fermented pickles she’d made at home. By this January, she was launching her Minneapolis company, TRRRific Products, and hopeful about selling her product to retailers. An ingredient at least as important as veggies in Doroshow’s venture? The growth of commercial kitchen space in the Twin Cities.
No state agency tracks small food start-ups specifically, so precise numbers are hard to come by. But Tom Trutna, manager of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Business Development Center in St. Paul, says he’s seen a rise in the number of new food entrepreneurs.
“People really can’t start those businesses in their homes,” Trutna says. “You have to have a commercial kitchen to be licensed. And the cost of setting something like that up can keep some people out of it. But if there’s a resource like an incubator kitchen, that helps.” At least four incubator kitchens have opened in the Twin Cities in the past few years, the latest in North Minneapolis.
Catalyst Community Partners, a group of “social entrepreneurs” whose nonprofit organization develops real estate and businesses, surveyed North Minneapolis residents two years ago and discovered hidden food businesses operating out of homes and churches. Most wanted to grow and go legit. Catalyst, which is working to revitalize the commercial corridor along West Broadway Avenue, opened Kindred Kitchen there last November. The 2,525-square-foot facility offers space, equipment, and business training. Doroshow works out of Kitchen in the Market, a newly expanded commercial kitchen in the Midtown Global Market in South Minneapolis.
Molly Herman, proprietor of that kitchen, says she launched it in 2009, when she needed a place to base her own brand new catering business. She found nine other like-minded food entrepreneurs and set up a kitchen that they could work in and that she could run as a second business for herself. Now 20 food businesses operate there, and Herman has a waiting list. She says, “The lack of affordable kitchen space is really what brought us to where we are today.”