Some will come here to can pickles, others to make Christmas cookies with friends.
Tammy Markee-Mayas plans to make vegan burgers to sell at farmers’ markets and online.
And that’s the real power behind the 5,400-square-foot Food Enterprise and Economic Development (FEED) Kitchens, a commercial kitchen facility on the North Side: to grow food-related businesses and create jobs.
“It opens a huge amount of opportunities,” said Markee-Mayas, 42, who also is Dane Buy Local marketing coordinator. “With the space like FEED, someone can start a business for less than a few thousand dollars. It eliminates a lot of barriers.”
The $1.7 million FEED Kitchens has five kitchens for preparing, boiling, baking and frying a wide range of foods, and includes large walk-in refrigeration, freezer and dry storage space.
The Northside Planning Council project, which has been in the works since 2008, opens Monday in the facility built on roughly a quarter of the parking lot on the northwest side of Northgate Shopping Center, 1219 N. Sherman Ave.
Local entrepreneur Ellen Barnard, who owns A Woman’s Touch, has spent the past five years planning, raising money and rallying community support for what is the city’s first community commercial kitchen.
Initial users, who will rent space by the hour, include a work training program operated by River Food Pantry and Madison Urban Ministries, Farm2Fork local food products processing company, Mandy’s Mood Foods and Madison Chocolate Co.
An additional 75 potential users have expressed an interest in using the facilities, Barnard said. They include caterers but also those who want to sell local food products like breads, sweets, salsa, tomato sauces, granola bars, soups and chili.
The original plan called for the facility to be built near Ale Asylum on the west side of the Dane County Regional Airport. The new location offers a more urban feel.
“This is way more visible, way more accessible for the community, on a bus line, near the job center,” Barnard said. “There’s lots of synergy.”
The project, which was delayed due the recession, received $500,000 in grant money from the city, $50,000 from the Pleasant Rowland Foundation and $36,000 from Willy Street Co-op.
The Alexander Co. is leasing the land to the council and invested $40,000 to prepare the site.
About $90,000 came from individual donations ranging from $10 to $2,500, while another $400,000 came from low-interest loans.
The Kansas City, Mo.,-based J.R. Albert Foundation, which focuses on promoting healthier living, donated $100,000.
“A friend of mine sent me a link (to their website) one day,” Barnard said. “So many people stepped up at every step.”
Unlike a community kitchen in Mineral Point that processes local foods for commercial use and employs people with developmental disabilities, the Madison kitchen is designed to launch small businesses and create 25 to 30 jobs a year.
The Madison facility has the capability of preparing 1,000 pounds of vegetables at a time to be frozen, canned or eaten raw.
Kitchens for deli-style prep, baking, meat packaging and processing and another for home users also are part of the project.
Markee-Mayas spent $35,000 to build and equip her food cart, IGo VeGo. The cart was stationed at East Mifflin Street and Wisconsin Avenue in 2012, but when the kitchen spaces Markee-Mayas was using to prepare her burgers and salads were no longer available, she was forced to close.
She started her business thinking that the FEED Kitchens would be finished sooner.
“It was an expensive lesson, that’s for sure,” she said.
Megan Hile started Madison Chocolate Co. a year ago and offers monthly subscriptions. She has clients in New York and California, she said.
She has been renting kitchen space at RP’s Pasta in Madison but wants to grow her business more by using the FEED Kitchens.
“I hope to double, even triple my current share capacity in 2014,” Hile said in an e-mail. “I am confident that the FEED Kitchens is the space and place for me. I will be surrounded by others in the food industry/community who either have their own micro business or who are just starting out.”