Ashe County’s Commercial Kitchen is undergoing changes, as its busiest months are fast approaching.
“We want to see people come in here and have a dream and be able to make their dream come true,” said Lisa Bauguess, kitchen manager for the Commercial Kitchen. “It’s a place where that can happen with the right steps, the right training, education, promotion and marketing, it can actually happen.”
Right now, the kitchen is teaming up with multiple organizations, including Blue Ridge Seeds of Change, Blue Ridge Food Ventures, Heifer International, Greater Lansing Area Development (GLAD), AdvantageWest, Ashe Partnership for Children and Wilkes Community College to help develop a better future for the incubator and its users — and help find more funding.
“All of our planning is coming together,” Bauguess said. “I think we have the right people in place to make a difference.”
Aside from Ashe County’s kitchen, located at Family Central, the closest two commercial kitchens are in Asheville and Rockingham County. Bauguess said most users of the kitchen in the past years have been from Ashe and Watauga counties.
Now she would like to see the kitchen promoted to an expanded area.
“I would like for us to go regional,” Bauguess said. “Sparta, Galax (Va.), all of these places have their farmer’s markets going on. People just need to know what is here, and I don’t think they actually do.”
Since its development in 2007, the Ashe Commercial Kitchen has been serving as an incubator for entrepreneurs and for those who want a successful career in the food industry. The kitchen, for an affordable hourly charge, provides approximately $200,000 worth of equipment available for use including industrial ovens, grinders, food testers and walk in freezers.
Bauguess said the busiest months for the kitchen are between the months of April and October, when many people use the space for the farmer’s market. Year round, the kitchen is used by caterers, small businesses and food trucks.
In addition, other changes are coming in the form of helping the kitchen users develop a business plan and have informative classes on mass cooking.
Bauguess said one class will involve Dan Little of Wilkes Community College helping the kitchen users jumpstart their business.
“(Little) is now available to help our new kitchen users to make a business plan, just to get them a little bit more prepared,” she said.
In addition, Bauguess said there are plans in place to provide classes on baking breads, cakes and other food.
The kitchen can be rented for $15 per hour and includes a $250 refundable deposit. In addition, users need a ServSafe certification and insurance.
Also, kitchen users are able to use the area’s shelf and freezer spaces for an affordable monthly charge. The kitchen is open 24/7, but there are plans to set up an online schedule where users can go see what times are available for them to work.
Promotion is also key for the kitchen’s future plans. Bauguess said, the need for classes is important, as she sees people come into the kitchen with good ideas and visions, but sometimes, they fall short.
“Of course, we need people knowing that we are here, by getting the word out to surrounding counties,” she said. “We want to be regional and not just in Ashe County. We need classes to help people out and to get them started, and I think that is really important. I think if you put those steps to help (new kitchen users) build their business, they will be successful.”
As part of the changes and partnerships, the Ashe Commercial Kitchen is working with Blue Ridge Food Ventures, the commercial kitchen based in Asheville.
“(Blue Ridge Food Ventures) have something that works, they’re big,” Baugess said.
As Bauguess remains excited and optimistic about the coming months, with the work going on with several different community organizations, the main focus of the kitchen will continue to be a promotion of economic development in the region.
“We want you to grow,” she said. “We are an incubator and our whole plan is to help you get started in your own business and be successful. It can be really profitable if you have your head on straight and know what you want to do.”
For more information on the Ashe County Commercial Kitchen, call Bauguess at (336) 620-2484, or visit www.ashencedc.com/agriculture/commercial-kitchen/. Additional information is also available on the Blue Ridge Seeds of Change website at: www.blueridgeseedsofchange.org/.
Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.