There’s a cheerful bustle behind the big glass windows of Kitchen Co-op on the undersung strip in Amityville where Route 110 is called Broadway and retro ’50s mom-and-pop shoppes and historical buildings make for a charming village center.
Victoria Gaynor is processing Victoria Akkari culinary argan oil. “Most people don’t know that when it is properly prepared it is edible,” she tells my raised eyebrows. Jamie Effman is making delicious looking organic vegan gluten-free brownies for her company Pleasant Petites. Janine Catania of Sorelle Cheesecake is pulling cakes and yummy things out of the ovens. Kirkland Jones of Kirk’s Catering (firstname.lastname@example.org) offers me a Jamaican chicken patty from a tray just out of the oven (very tasty with a mellow kick).
It looks kind of like a stripped-down episode of Top Chef, except no one is nervous and no one is judging. In fact, it is a very collegial atmosphere and everyone is focused and sort of smiling to themselves.
This is Kitchen Co-op, where for the last three years aspiring food businesses have been making their dreams come true. Owned and operated by Cindy and David Sierra, Kitchen Co-op offers cooks with a potential product not only a kitchen to produce the food, but also guidance to navigate the legalities, permits and licenses and everything else they need to bring their wares to market, either via food trucks, store shelves or farmers markets.
A former fashion stylist who launched her own chocolate business out of an incubator in Long Island City to sell in Huntington, Cindy Sierra saw the need for an incubator farther east. “People were always walking in asking, ‘Would you sell my product?’ and I would have to tell them, ‘You’re not licensed.’ So I thought about it and Long Island City really was a trek for us too, so I started looking for a location.”
The couple (David Sierra was a VP for production in a fashion house) found this storefront in Amityville— “I thought it was really a cute village in transition and that it was coming back around,” says Cindy—with about 1,500 sq. ft. upstairs and another 1,200 downstairs for storage. They equipped it with commercial ranges, ovens, mixers and the like and got into business.
But they found that people needed more than just a place to cook and store. They needed guidance.
“I would see so many people, especially young girls with small kids who wanted to work, to make their own footprint,” says Cindy. “But because they don’t know how, they think it’s impossible and really, it’s the easiest thing.”
So depending on where the client is in his or her journey, the Sierras will pitch in. “We guide them through the process of starting their business, how to get the tax I.D., how to get a business attorney, get the product tested, determine the shelf life; if there’s a language barrier and they are not comfortable, we make the calls for them. We make sure the product is as professional as possible,” Cindy says. And all that comes before they even sign up for shifts in the kitchen.
There is a $150 start up fee then shifts at Kitchen Co-op start at $135 for four hours with a two shift a month minimum, but prices go down depending on usage. Once the product is ready, the Sierras will also advise on distribution and potential contacts. One client, Donut Bliss, has started a Saturday pop-up right out of the storefront, selling fresh donuts from 10 a.m. to noon. Another, a pastor’s wife, makes turmeric tea for sale in health food stores under the label Mama T’s. “The tea is just so good,” says Cindy.
Kirk Jones, who gave me the chicken patty sample, is preparing to launch his own West Indian catering service after years of working in kitchens for other people.
“I met David through a mutual friend and we made an instant connection,” says Jones. “Right now we are writing history. I am refining my recipes and getting ready to go on the business end.”
That’s exactly the kind of entrepreneurial spirit the Sierra’s want to nurture. “There are so many talented people and we want to help them,” Sierra says. “If our clients are successful, that’s where our success lies.”