Incubating Foodies | Urban Living

Incubating Foodies

A Health Department-approved kitchen breaks ground.

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My wife and I are huge fans of the summer farmers markets and the Winter Market at the Rio Grande. She is the one who seeks out the fresh-squeezed juices and the stinky local cheeses, and I look for tasty fried dough bits stuffed with something yummy cooked by a chef with ethnic roots. My Argentinian friend, Analia Valdemoros (or "Ana Empanada," as I call her), has been selling some damned fine empanadas at the summer market on Saturdays so, of course, I can always be found standing in line at her booth buying her spinach or beef and lemon pockets of crispy love. I met her when I was serving as a Planning & Zoning Commissioner, and she was on the P&Z staff for Salt Lake City. Although she was a planner by day, she worked the market each week, hoping to take her small food business and turn it into a full-time restaurant. The problem? Affordable restaurant space is pricey and hard to come by.

Buzzwords like "small batch" brews, "locally made baked, canned or grown"—have been a trend for foodies and creative chefs in cities and towns around the United States for at least a decade. Sure, you can brew beer in your basement for your July 24th party or put up your killer curried pickle for friend and family gifts. But if you want to take that killer recipe and produce supplies of it to sell, you must create it in a Health Department-approved kitchen. No one has that facility in their home, and yet many folks want to test the commercial waters with their great creations.

Valdemoros and fellow foodie friend/former planner Tham Soekotjo have just been awarded grants and loans from Salt Lake City to develop a culinary incubator kitchen, called Square Kitchen, in Poplar Grove, at 751 W. 800 South that will break ground next month and open in the summer (if they get past the city's rules). This will be a gathering place to increase food diversity in our city with workshops, cooking classes and tastings. It's is a boon for potential entrepreneurs and the plans are amazing: 10,000 square feet of a Health Department-approved commissary kitchen that can be rented out by chefs by the hour, week or month. There will also be chefs to consult with prospective creators and business people/volunteers/contacts to help with marketing and packaging ideas. This new incubator kitchen will help folks with food-prep guidelines, safe food handling, business plans, branding, local sourcing of products, partnering with existing programs, as well as the un-fun stuff like insurance, liability and legal issues.

Frankly, my stomach can't wait!

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