Members of San Francisco's craft food scene will soon get a communal home if the Forage Kitchen hits its fundraising target.
Making food from scratch and selling it on a small scale is one of the simplest and oldest business models. But it isn't that simple to get a food venture off the ground. Financial barriers to entry include expensive commercial kitchen spaces and equipment. Bureaucratic impediments include licensing and permits. A lack of experience, savvy, and connections compound the challenge, of course, preventing many food lovers from taking the plunge to become food entrepreneurs.
Iso Rabins would know—his attempts to break into San Francisco's food scene were foiled from the get-go. Farmers markets turned him away when he offered to sell foraged mushrooms. He ended up "cold-calling chefs and knocking on the back door of restaurants." In 2008, Rabins founded ForageSF, a social enterprise to support the city's foraging scene. The group began hosting the Underground Market, a food market for shoppers willing to take a risk on food prepared outside a commercial kitchen. The market exploded in popularity, with hundreds of vendors and tens of thousands of participants. Then, San Francisco's Department of Public Health issued them a cease-and-desist last year.
Now Rabins and ForageSF are back with a new project called Forage Kitchen, a physical home for San Francisco's craft food scene—everyone from aspiring entrepreneurs to hobbyists. Currently in its Kickstarter phase, if funded the kitchen will become the first coworking space for craft food and a much needed "venue for small food producers to get their start without having to pay all the fees," says Rabins.
"There's so little that actually has to do with making the food," says Rabins. Instead, entrepreneurs are forced to spend their time dealing with the paperwork. His new space aims to "lower the bar and see if this is something [food lovers] want to do, and get their face out there," by providing storage, kitchen space, and business consulting, and by putting newbies and veterans in the same room to create opportunities for mentoring and advice.
"This is the space that I want to use myself. This is the space that would've helped me so much when I wanted to start my business," Rabins says.
Membership costs will vary depending on a member's needs. Food lovers eager to tinker with professional equipment or execute projects that their home kitchens can't support—like canning 100 jars of preserves in one day—will pay $99 per month. But $25 per month will grant access to the space's events, parties, and classes. And for aspiring professionals, who will also need office space, retail space, and help connecting to distributors and stores, the Forage Kitchen will offer an affordable hourly rate, says Rabins.
He's currently scouting locations for Forage Kitchen in the warehouse-heavy Dogpatch area of San Francisco. "You need a big building, first of all"—the options range from 8,000 to 20,000 square feet—and one with decent parking.
According to Rabins, funding the project on Kickstarter was a great way to build up community in anticipation of the kitchen's launch. "I really like the idea of the people who are going to be using the space, being a part of its creation. It is a space for the city to be able to kind of have a hub for food. And I love the idea of a year down the road [...] if all 700 come by the kitchen and feel like it's theirs."
And perhaps going the crowdfunding route will help seed the idea among food lovers in other cities. "I would like to see it as a model for other spaces nationwide," says Rabins.
Hear Rabins' pitch in his own words below.