Forage Kitchen

Good To Eat Dumplings: An example for us all...

A few months back, we introduced one of our favorite pop-up restaurants, Good-to-Eat-Dumplings, to our buddies over at Pixar. Pixar is coming out with a new short film focused on dumplings, called Bao, and we thought it would be a great idea for these two companies to work together on the film’s launch. They did, and it was terrific! In fact, it was so successful that now they’re going to be working together on all press events for the movie. It’s really exciting to see how Good-to-Eat has blossomed since starting out at Forage Kitchen. They do pop-ups all over the Bay and sell out at every BatchMade Market on First Fridays.

It’s not an accident that they’re so successful.

Yesterday I was talking to Angie, one of the owners of Good-to-Eat, and I was really impressed by how methodical she and her team are. They pop up everywhere, mostly at breweries in Oakland and SF, but their focus at these events isn’t just on profit. Angie explained to me how intensely they document the experience for market research, with the end goal of identifying a future brick and mortar location.

Who comes to the events? What do they buy? Where do their customers come from? Did they just stop by, or did they travel a long way to sample their food? What was well received, what wasn't, and how can it be improved? What dish is most popular at each location? They focus on these questions and then meet as a team for hours to discuss each of these data points.

Their focus on their recipes is no less intense. Right now, they’re developing a new bao (which we’ll keep a secret for now). Instead of limiting themselves to what seems good the first time around and then serving it, they spend weeks testing the recipe, getting feedback from the other chefs in the kitchen, and they meet again to discuss how to improve it.

We in the food world too often lose this focus, and I’m no exception. I would organize an event, hope it went well, and then move on to the next one. I was intensely focused on what I wanted to create, and on making people happy, but it was always through the lens of my experience rather than an objective look at the event itself.  I never took the time to step back and look at the other factors shaping my success. In my case, it was underground dinners and food markets, but the lessons still apply.

A lot of us in the food world think of what we create as our art, and often our attitude is, “If people don't like it, that's their problem.” Of course, it’s important to focus on what you want to create, rather than being vulnerable to the changing winds of opinion. If you take advice too freely, you won’t create anything unique. But I think we can learn a lot from Good-to-Eat’s mentality. They want to create something great, and they use the information around them as fuel to help them get there, rather than as a challenge to their vision. That’s definitely a lesson I could have used over the years.

Iso Rabins
Co-founder: Forage Kitchen

Our first six months


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!

Iso Rabins
Partner: Forage Kitchen