Culinary businesses without a brick-and-mortar presence face a big problem: Where can they prep and store their food while following sanitation laws? For many, commissary kitchens are the answer. Commissary kitchens provide a legal, fully equipped space to prepare, cook, and store both food and supplies on a part-time rental basis. Businesses that benefit typically include:
- Food trucks and other mobile culinary businesses
- Traveling or in-home event caterers
- Single owner/operator businesses without a storefront such as a professional baker or similar
The rise of independently run food service brands, especially mobile units like food trucks, has been pronounced in the past decade. The food truck industry specifically, for example, grew an impressive 8% between 2011 and 2016. The Food Corridor recently reported that the variety of commissary kitchens available expanded in 2018 to meet the demand driven by these trends. Commissary kitchens that incubate small food businesses are spreading across the country.
Small food businesses benefit from commissary kitchens in a few crucial ways. By renting kitchen space and equipment — as opposed to purchasing it on their own — businesses can:
- Reduce overhead: Commissary kitchen rental contracts often cover the cost of electricity, security, and in some cases, overnight parking for food trucks.
- Stay compliant with sanitation laws: Businesses may find it easier to meet food prep and sanitation laws for their state or county.
- Stake out a central location: Commissary kitchens may become the primary meeting place for staff to handle food prep and administrative work.
- Access clean, modern equipment: Commissary kitchens provide the space and equipment food businesses need without having to break the bank or maintain it themselves.
Let’s dive in to the question of whether or not a commissary kitchen is right for your business and how you should go about renting one.
Is a commissary kitchen right for you?
It may seem counterintuitive to spend money on extra space when you run a small business, but renting a commissary kitchen can increase your production capacity and efficiency. Consider the following factors to test if you may need a commissary kitchen:
Your business structure
At the most basic level, a commissary kitchen is ideal for those that do not have access to a centralized kitchen. Such businesses include food trucks, personal chefs, small-scale event caterers, and more.
Next, consider if you need or would benefit from access to unique facilities or equipment. Commissary kitchens may offer grease disposal and provide cleaning services that are difficult to manage from a small space. For example, Hot Bread Kitchen in New York City tells clients they’ll maintain all kitchen equipment including deep fryers, convection ovens, and cooktops. This saves time, money, and effort in meeting tricky regulations.
Lastly, would more space help you grow your business past your current capabilities? Even with easy-to-assemble food truck meals, there’s only so much that can be prepared beforehand without the proper space. Consider how much a centralized kitchen space would allow you to increase your food production capabilities.
Your financial options
Though commissary kitchens can cut costs in the long run, it’s important to consider your current sales and cash flow before investing in additional space. Can you generate enough demand and get enough new sales to justify the costs of renting?
If you think the answer is yes, speak with potential commissary kitchens about their pay structure options. Many commissary kitchens offer both hourly and long-term rentals. Hourly rentals allow the flexibility to choose the times that work for your business and only spend the money necessary for food prep each week.
Long-term membership programs allow you to rent a private or shared space for a monthly fee. Many programs allow you to rent a space with unlimited access or for a pre-set number of hours each month.
Below are a few real world examples of contract structures you may encounter:
- Garden State Kitchen in Orange, NJ, offers different hourly rates for their catering kitchen, baking kitchen, and prep area, with a four-hour minimum for each. If you choose to join their membership program, the hourly price reduces over a certain number purchased hours each month.
- Orange Door Kitchen in Acton, MA, offers both hourly rates for both shared and private spaces, plus a discount for six-month contracts.
- Hot Bread Kitchen in New York City offers a unique subsidized rate to growing businesses as well as short-term use rentals.
- Crafted Kitchen in Los Angeles offers both hourly and long-term contracts. Their private kitchens, for example, require a one-year lease.
Note that most kitchens also charge setup fees, down payments, or orientation charges.
Types of Commissary Kitchen Rentals
Commissary kitchens offer private kitchens, shared spaces, or combinations of both. In a shared space, several businesses from the community work in their own area, each with access to designated prep space and equipment.
If you require a larger space or employ a big team, a private space may be the best option. If the kitchen offers long-term contracts, this private kitchen can become your business’ home base. Though this option requires a larger investment, it eliminates scheduling conflicts or the need to pay for additional storage.
In the end, choose the option that balances increased production and sales with the rental cost of your kitchen each month.
How to Evaluate a Commissary Kitchen
Commissary kitchens vary as much as the businesses they serve, so it’s important to clarify your priorities before finalizing your search. Begin by asking yourself the following questions to determine your kitchen needs:
- How much counter space do you require to safely prep your product?
- How many staff will be working in the kitchen?
- Do you need specific tools and equipment?
- Are trash removal and grease trap maintenance priorities for your business?
- Do you need overnight parking?
- Would flexible operating hours help your business?
- Is the kitchen’s location convenient for you?
- Do you need access to food and supply storage?
Keep your list close when you reach out to different facilities to find the one that has everything you need.
Be sure to also tour the space before signing a contract whenever possible. In this final stage of consideration, keep these kitchen and contract-specific questions in mind:
- What equipment/services are included in the contract?
- Where can I expect additional fees?
- When were the appliances last replaced? How often are they cleaned and maintanenced?
- Is the space shared, and if so, how do I reserve time?
- Who do I contact if I have a problem?
Asking yourself these questions before you sign a contract ensures you won’t find yourself missing a key need when it’s too late.
How to Find a Commissary Kitchen Near You
There are several ways to connect with commissary kitchens in your area. As a small business owner, the local food community may have a nearby favorite they can vouch for. You may also find a low-cost option at local community centers, schools, or churches looking to bring in extra income by renting our their kitchen when it’s not in use.
You can also consult an online database of commissary kitchens for a quick and straightforward search. These include:
This extensive, nation-wide database lists licensed commercial commissary kitchens for rent in your area. Enter your zip code to find a list of verified kitchens. The database is supported by The Food Corridor, a software program and community that helps shared kitchens manage their schedule, billing and client management.
This database currently features over 700 kitchens throughout the country. You also have to option to register your own kitchen to advertise to cooks and chefs. Their site was designed by culinary experts wishing to create an easy-to-use, free place to list and find your commissary kitchen.
Unlike the databases above, Your Pro Kitchen is a company that opens its own locations around the country and encourages others to do the same. Your Pro Kitchen provides spaces that meet state and local commercial kitchen laws so small chefs can expand their business.
Take the next step
Launching and growing a small business in the food industry requires more space and professional equipment as you progress. Commissary kitchens can help you meet those needs without having to buy. If you’re a small, mobile food business or private caterer, a commissary kitchen can help you work at the level of a brick-and-mortar restaurant.