Just a few months ago, there was talk of shutting down Ashe County’s commercial kitchen at Family Central because the facility wasn’t being used by the community it was meant to serve.
Today, with handful of culinary entrepreneurs and new manager, the former Ashe County High School kitchen is home to a bustling micro-economy of local small businesses.
“I see this kitchen as a way for somebody to make their dreams come true,” said Kitchen Manager Lisa Testerman, who took over the facility in February. “
Liz Riddick of Alive and Kicking Foods in Boone has been doing just that for a little over a year now with her Kale Yeah dried kale snacks.
It all started when Riddick went on a raw foods diet, she said. “I wanted something crunchy and savory, and found this recipe for dried kale.”
She made a few batches and began sharing it with friends, who soon were asking for more.
Then she discovered Ashe’s commercial kitchen, where she is able to process 250 pounds of organic kale per week. The kale from individual growers in Ashe and Watauga counties in the warmer months, and from the N.C. east coast in winter.
“It’s a great facility,” she said. “It’s a good platform for figuring out if you have a viable business idea.”
Riddick’s idea seems viable. Kale Yeah is moving 300 units a week in Boone alone, she said.
“I’m selling all I can make,” she said. “Stores are asking for it all the time.”
“If we had two more food dehydrators, we could do 750 pounds a week,” she said.
Dried kale may not sound appetizing. But it is, indeed, crunchy and savory — and oddly addictive.
Riddick also makes a pesto-like Kale Yeah seasoning called “Shake,” which is good on everything from popcorn to scrambled eggs, she said.
“This kitchen is a huge asset to the community,” Riddick said. “Since we got Lisa, it’s been a complete turnaround.”
Sarah Proctor, also of Boone, has been baking cookies, scones and breakfast breads at the kitchen under her Mrs. Prock’s Bake Shop brand for three months.
Proctor’s start-up concern is already a full-time job, she said. Like Riddick, she is currently selling all she makes through 10 stores in Boone and Blowing Rock.
“My kids love it,” Proctor said.
Tina Reid of Reid’s Catering Co. in Valle Crucis also does a brisk business out of the kitchen. “We go all over, but we do all of our prep here,” she said.
Reid also had high praise for the facility. “We get so much more work done out here than at a restaurant kitchen,” she said.
Not all the kitchen’s clients are from outside the county, however. Dave and Joy Brockheart of Subs-to-Go on Old N.C. 16 make their sandwiches there, Testerman said.
Other clients who don’t use the kitchen itself rent shelf space in the walk in cooler and freezer, she said. Dry storage space is also available.
Established by grants from the N.C. Rural Center, Appalachain Regional Commission and Golden LEAF, and operated by the Ashe County Partnership for Children, the kitchen is open 24 hours, with most evening and night hours currently available, Testerman said. Kitchen time is a reasonable $15 per hour.
For more information or to schedule time in the Ashe County commercial kitchen, call 336.620.2484.