The oven was hotter than expected, so the first batch of cookies came out a little burned. Stephen Wirthlin, owner of the startup cookie business, Chip, had the opportunity to cook his first batch in The Potluck: Culinary Cultivation Center. The Potluck is a commercial kitchen rented on a sliding scale to low- and moderate-income culinary entrepreneurs.
“I’ve been anxious to start a business for a while,” Wirthlin said. “I tried to do a Popsicle business a few years back, but I didn’t get far.”
The initial cost of starting a culinary business can prevent many ventures from getting off the ground. The Potluck is based on the culinary incubator business model that provides a space and equipment without the high cost of investing in a dedicated location and supplies. Other options, like working out of your home or renting out a commercial space each present their own problems.
“There are a lot of regulations for running a culinary business from your home,” said Casey Logan, Americorps VISTA in charge of The Potluck. “And renting a restaurant space can be very expensive and difficult to work around their schedule.”
Wirthlin found The Potluck when he was trying to start his popsicle business but the kitchen was still under construction. He was looking into renting a space from a baker for his cookie business when he remembered about The Potluck. He said the facilities significantly cut down his start up price and that he couldn’t have afforded to get his own place or equipment.
The rental rate spans from $5 to $80 per hour, based on income. Fees collected go to pay for utilities, maintenance and cleaning. The Potluck can accommodate up to 26 businesses each year, each with 6-month contracts. The Potluck is a safe space for people like Wirthlin as they learn from trial and error. It is designed to be a temporary solution until the business is self-sustaining and able to secure a permanent space.
“The long-term goal would be for the businesses to use the kitchen for just a year or two until they outgrow the need for us,” Logan said. “When they become stable it can create more jobs in Provo.”
Wirthlin hopes to eventually do well enough to get his own kitchen and have walk-in customers.
“It’s hard. You’re going to have a lot of good reasons to quit. You just have to put your nose down and work,” Wirthlin said. “There’s red tape everywhere and someone is going to forward you to someone who’s going to forward you to someone else who can’t help you. It’ll be frustrating and tedious but you just have to really want it. If you really want it you can do it.”
In addition to the use of The Potluck facilities, contracted businesses will have access to a Utah County grant from the Mountainland Community and Economic Development Program. This grant will help entrepreneurs to develop their business plans, help them establish local connections, and provide liability coverage.
“I think it’s awesome. It just adds goodness to the city,” Wirthlin said about The Potluck. “I think more startups like me will get a shot. I think it’s going to bring people to their dreams.”
The reconstruction of The Potluck began in 2013 with the reception of a $50,000 Provo City Community Development Block Grant. The funds paid for an update to the room in addition to purchasing new ovens, stoves, mixers and other equipment.
The Potluck is located at Community Action Services and Food Bank at 815 South Freedom Boulevard, Provo, UT 84601. Those interested in applying should can do so here.