It’s been six months since we opened Forage Kitchen, so it’s a good time to reflect on where we’re at and where we’re going. It still seems surreal that the space is actually open. After years of pushing, starting with our Kickstarter campaign almost five years ago, to when Matt (my cousin and business partner, an indispensable part of this enterprise) and I started working together in 2013, to our search for investors (it’s amazing how hard it is to get someone to invest in an actual building in the tech capital of the world), to the seemingly endless search for a location (we were so close to acquiring one of over a dozen spaces that we were designing the interiors before the deals fell through), to the delays with our construction (the project was more than a year behind schedule). It’s been quite an experience.
What kept us going through all that was a concrete faith that someday it would exist. We weren't sure how long it would take, or how we would afford it, or where it would be, only that it would eventually happen. I really feel that’s the recipe for success—just convincing yourself that there’s no other option.
Six months after opening, the space still has that new car smell. At the end of the day I sometimes sit alone in the café, with a beer and a cookbook, and I just revel in the reality of the space. How unlikely it was that it would actually work—how often it felt like it would never happen.
We’ve been really happy about the crew of chefs that are using the space. We thought it was going to fill up a lot faster than it did, which caused some financial hand wringing, but we’ve come to see that these things just take time. In fact, it usually takes several months from the moment people email us to when they actually start booking, a multi-part process that involves obtaining permits and negotiating the amount of hours needed, among other things. Some people just disappear, but the good ones sign up. I’ve always said that in shared spaces, it’s always one person that ruins it for everyone: that one chef who doesn’t clean up, or uses more space than he or she needs, or brings in too many people. To be honest, that chef was sometimes me. That’s why I know the type so well!
Thankfully, no one in our space fits that bill. Our crew consists of friendly, open, interesting, and ambitious folks, including our friends at Thistle, who cook 10K meals per week, to Eat Nibble, run by Sally, a first-time food entrepreneur. We like to emphasize that our space is perfect for novices, that there is no stupid question about how to use equipment or scale up a recipe, and that Matt will sit down with anyone who has permit questions. Likewise, I’m happy to give feedback on recipes or to lend a hand with cooking.
When I first walked into a shared kitchen, I had no professional experience, and it struck me as a pretty scary place: huge equipment I’d never used before, serious busy folks running around with no time to lead me through the finer points of emptying a fryer (I’m still not 100% sure how to do it well…). I want our space to be different, a space where people support each other and aren’t scared to ask questions. Everyone was a newbie at some point. Open communication is a treasured virtue at Forage Kitchen. The more I push for candor and openness, the more I enjoy being in it.
BatchMade Market, our monthly event when our chefs sell and sample food in the kitchen on First Fridays, has been a high point. I loved running the underground market, with the exception of the huge production and constant wrangling with the Health Department over legality. What made it so worthwhile was the community of eager chefs, all so excited to share what they made, and seeing how happy it made them to have an adoring public sample and purchase their food.
BatchMade represents what’s best about running a market. We get between 400-600 people per month, and currently five to seven companies are set up (which may expand as the weather improves), preparing everything from fresh oysters to BBQ pork sandwiches to heritage bacon. I get to bartend, which is one of my favorite things to do because it puts me in touch with people who are excited to discover the space. Meanwhile, all-night crowds roll through for food and drink. It’s always a great night.
There’s something about that event that feels like the culmination of my vision: tons of happy people working hard to realize their dream, with Forage Kitchen as their foundation. I think of the Kitchen as a real platform for other people’s ideas. Sure, we have our own projects, like the meat curing room I’m building and the temp-controlled fan/cooling system. But we really want it to be a space that other people use to create what they want to see. Whether that’s a pop-up, a product, a cooking class, or something we haven’t even imagined, the Kitchen is an amazing resource that should be used as much as possible. If you have an idea, we want to hear it!
It’s been a wonderful, sometimes stressful, six months. An important lesson I’ve learned throughout this time is that things work out as they should when you trust yourself and your intentions. I can’t wait to see how this space will change six months from now!
Partner: Forage Kitchen