It is the stuff of wishful daydreams to turn your stay-at-home movie-night popcorn—or your love of an exotic locale or your flavor nostalgia—into a career. As soon as you learn what it takes to bring your idea to market, it’s daunting. Licenses, inspections, packaging, distribution … you might as well just get on your commuter train as usual and content yourself with reading recipes on your phone.
But we have been following a local food incubator that, for more than three years, has been successfully coaching dreamers to realize their culinary business fantasies.
Kitchen Co-op on Broadway in Amityville is owned and operated by Cindy and David Sierra. It offers cooks not only a kitchen to produce food but also guidance through the legalities needed to bring their wares to market. We’ve seen a number of new businesses come out of Kitchen Co-op. Here are three of the most exciting.
1. Victoria Akkari Culinary Argan Oil
Cosmetic argan oil skin and hair products are flooding the market, but argan oil is edible, too. Victoria Gaynor found this out on a trip to Marrakesh. She purchased a tiny bottle of the stuff, began to use it and was hooked. She decided to bring it to New York.
“We work directly with a women’s cooperative in Morocco,” says Gaynor, who was a jewelry designer and buyer. “It is important to work directly with the women, otherwise they won’t be paid fairly.”
Making culinary argan oil is labor intensive. After picking and drying the fruit, the women crack the shell to get to the kernel inside. The kernels are then lightly roasted to extract the oil which is rich in vitamin E. “It tastes amazing,” says Gaynor. “It’s got a nutty, smoky flavor so it is good as a finishing oil, but you can also use it like olive oil.”
Twice a month Gaynor takes the LIRR from Forest Hills to Kitchen Co-op to bottle. “[Everyone at the Kitchen Co-op] imparts so much wisdom,” she says. “They really nurture all their clients so you feel like friends. It’s so much more than a commercial kitchen.”
Gaynor is expanding into coffee, spices and home decor items. Victoria Akkari products are available at Gaynor’s website (victoriaakkari.com) and locations in New York City.
2. Luminous Food Organic Plant-Based Snacking
When Dinali Abeysekera and her husband, Mike Romani, were newlyweds, they lived in Boston working in not-for-profit agencies and home remodeling.
“At the end of a long hard day, I would make us a big bowl of popcorn with my own seasonings and we would sit on the couch and relax,” she says. “It was super clean, with superfood flavorings and I kept saying I wished there was something on the market like this that I could purchase.”
That wish became a conviction that the world needed popcorn that was organic, air-popped and seasoned with exciting and healthy ingredients. They researched and returned to Long Island a year ago—Abeysekera was raised in Setauket by her Sri Lankan parents—to put their plan into action.
“We were looking for facilities in Queens, but at Kitchen Co-op there was a significant difference,” she says. “David and Cindy were so helpful, they had a lot more equipment and it was so much closer.”
Abeysekera and Romani brought in their own poppers, sifters and tumblers (“Since we want our product to be completely gluten-free and vegetarian we wanted dedicated machines,” she says) and now produce 500 bags a week. The flavors—Himalayan pink salt, turmeric with black pepper, raw cacao, and maple with pink salt—are novel and bold and the packaging is just beautiful.
The popcorn can be found at their website (luminousorganics.com) and at health food stores in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.
Kanchi Agrawala-Dokania moved to the United States from India 16 years ago. She has since tried to find restaurants that could match her exacting standards for Indian dishes but has been disappointed.
“I traveled a lot and tried many places,” she says. “It was as if the people making the food were more interested in running a business than making food. I could not taste the passion.”
So taking a page from her work as a field engineer, she chose one dish, butter chicken (makhara masala), and methodically created a blend that a home cook could add to cooked chicken, vegetables or cheese (paneer) for a delicious healthy meal in minutes. She wanted no fatty fillers, shelf stability without preservatives, and fantastic flavor.
“I kept reformatting it as a ready-made gravy, but when I sent it to the lab the pH was too high,” she recalls. “They gave me a one-week frozen shelf life, which is not enough, and said I could add preservatives. But I didn’t want to compromise the quality. So I said, why don’t I make the base and let the customer make the gravy quickly at home by adding water or milk?”
It took two years, but the result is a sauce that can sit on your shelf until you’re ready to use it, is ready in under five minutes and is as flavorful and fresh tasting as if you had toasted the spices and pounded the paste yourself.
Agrawala-Dokania has since added other spice pastes for beans to her lineup, which is available through her website (eshop.framhouse.com) or Amazon.
She says the trip has been worth it.
“In these last two years I have learned so much,” she says. “Food licensing, applying for certifications, marketing, business. It has been a really fun journey.”
And these are just three of the 40 or so current clients getting a launchpad for their products at Kitchen Co-op. We can’t wait to see what comes out next!