Rachel DesRochers of Grateful Grahams
The kitchen in the basement of the Senior Services of Northern Kentucky (SSNK) is huge — 5,000-square-feet huge. So when Rachel DesRochers was first offered it for her burgeoning vegan graham cracker business Grateful Grahams, she turned it down.
She had started — and was quickly outgrowing — the company in her home kitchen, but with its bank of eight commercial ovens, a 60-quart mixer and giant kettles, the thought of utilizing the SSNK space was just too overwhelming.
“I looked at this kitchen in late 2012 and it was intimidatingly large,” DesRochers says. “It was huge and so I moved to a smaller space in January 2013 in Covington, but we quickly outgrew that too, and I called Ken (Rechtin, interim executive director of SSNK) in August asking to look at it again.”
This time, DesRochers came armed with a plan: sharing the kitchen space with like-minded women looking to start and grow their own food-based businesses. The Northern Kentucky Incubator Kitchen was born.
DesRochers knows how hard it can be to start a business from scratch. Grateful Grahams began at home in 2010 as a way to show her daughter Rosalee that she could fulfill her dreams while still being a stay-at-home mom to her three children. The company grew by leaps and bounds and can now be found in more than 50 outlets nationwide, including Whole Foods, Remke Markets, Viva La Vegan in California and Green Bean Delivery.
The Northern Kentucky Incubator Kitchen is home to five women-owned businesses besides Grateful Grahams: The Delish Dish, run by Mavis Linnemann-Clark, a personal chef/caterer; Love & Fluff Marshmallows, a gourmet handmade marshmallow company; Piebird Sweet and Savory Specialties, featuring specialty pies; Whirlybird Granola, a small-batch natural granola outfit; and Evergreen Holistic Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that works with inner-city youth to show them where their food comes from. Each company has its own space, yet the women collaborate on events.
Stephanie Beck Borden of Love & Fluff Marshmallows knew it was only a matter of time before her six-quart home mixer would burn out. Love & Fluff had started out as a Christmas gift project with an intriguing recipe for peppermint marshmallows she received in the mail. Before she knew what was happening, people were ordering the treats and she was preparing them for special events. She began to collaborate with Grateful Grahams on handmade s’mores, and officially launched her company in late May of this year.
Borden utilizes the incubator kitchen two days a week. “It was clear that I only needed a couple of days a week in a commercial kitchen,” she says. “Shared kitchen space means I also get to work with others, have product taste testers at the ready and can maximize buying power through group bulk purchases. It is a built-in networking group with diverse contacts as well as many shared values. It is a priceless opportunity on many levels.”
Similar to Borden and DesRochers, Jonni Lynch began Piebird Sweet and Savory Specialties in her kitchen. A dear friend said to her over the table, “Why don’t you just stop making excuses and do this?” She finds being part of the incubator kitchen an immensely gratifying experience. “It reveals itself to me almost daily — it’s a network of people who really want to succeed and are supportive of each other’s dreams,” she says. “That’s hard to come by in this lifetime.”
As for now, the kitchen happens to be an all-female environment, but that could change. “Right now I do only have women renters,” DesRochers says. “Will it always be that way? I don’t know. I do know we all work well together, and that these women aren’t renting space just for the ovens but also because of the events, the community and the aspect of working together.”
DesRochers sees the idea of the incubator kitchen as being the future of food production and ideal for getting home-based businesses off the ground. And while it’s a lot of work to run the kitchen in addition to running Grateful Grahams, she finds it personally satisfying.
“I have this amazing opportunity to keep supporting this project,” she says. “Thankfully, everyone understands I am running my company, which is growing really quickly right now, and sharing space isn’t taking anything away from my work. It actually helps me a lot knowing I have a bit lower overhead. These same renters won’t be here forever; they will grow out of the space or create something new. That is what you want. You want them to grow and do the next thing that they want.”
For more information on businesses located in The Northern Kentucky Incubator Kitchen, visit gratefulgrahams.com, delishdishcincy.com, facebook.com/loveandfluffmarshmallows, facebook.com/piebirdchirp, whirlybirdgranola.com or evergreenhlc.org.