The Artisan Kitchen in Richmond: A Co-op Cooking Space

by Sarah Henry on May 10, 2011 · 20 comments

in baking,bay area bites,civil eats,food businesses,street food

Nascent Bay Area food producers say one of the biggest hurdles they face in growing their budding businesses is finding a commercial kitchen to work out of that meets their needs.

San Francisco has La Cocina‘s incubator kitchen, and street eats, underground food folk, and pop-up restaurant types work out of places like La Victoria Bakery, while thriving food enterprises such as Blue Chair Fruit have found a home in the kitchen that houses Grace Street Catering in Oakland.

The Artisan Kitchen. Photo by Sarah Henry
The Artisan Kitchen. Photo: Sarah Henry

Less well-known is a commercial kitchen work space in Richmond, which gets rave reviews from the emerging and established food companies who work their day and night. The Artisan Kitchen is currently home to two food truck businesses, a few baked goods companies that sell at local farmers’ markets and stores, including Guy Birenbaum the French pastry chef behind La Fleur De Lyon, and a gourmet popcorn producer.

Tenants, there are around 12-15 at any one time, say the cooperative kitchen space gets high marks for organization, cleanliness, design, layout, light, and equipment — as well as a communal vibe conducive to getting the job done.

The Artisan Kitchen is the brainchild of seasoned chef Liane Ingham, who says she’d worked in her share of substandard kitchens and wanted better for her brethren in the culinary community. “I love the energy and enthusiasm of start-up artisans who want to produce their own recipes and try something new they’re passionate about,” says Ingham, who opened the kitchen in 2009.

Six month after getting the kitchen up and running she opened a cafe out front because she couldn’t find anywhere in the surrounding community to buy healthy, fresh food. The cafe sells seasonal salads, sandwiches, and savory and sweet baked goods made from locally-sourced, organic ingredients, along with Peet’s Coffee. Early birds can swing by for free range eggs or oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast.

The Artisan Cafe is popular among local business and home-based workers, with its industrial-modern feel, communal tables, and outdoor seating. It’s a sunny spot in an otherwise nondescript Marina Bay office park.

Ingham runs her own catering company out of the kitchen and says it’s been a pleasure to do business in Richmond, with none of the bureaucratic hassles small food companies grumble about in, say, neighboring Berkeley. She notes that since she set up shop new food businesses, such as Galaxy Desserts, have moved in. Her business model (about 60 percent of her income comes from the kitchen, 40 percent from the cafe) has worked so well she’s looking to replicated it in Oakland later this year.

“Liane chooses the tenants carefully,” says Gail Lillian of Liba, who roams around the Bay Area in a lime green truck peddling her popular falafel. “We’re all small, boutique-y businesses who work well together and share a sense of integrity in our product.”

Gail Lillian in front of her Liba Falafel truck
Gail Lillian in front of her Liba Falafel truck. Photo: Wendy Goodfriend

Some tenants find the location central, if business takes them between the East Bay and Marin, though that’s not the case for Lillian, who counts the extra 15 minutes of freeway driving as one of the few downsides of the location. Fellow food trucker Kate McEachern, of CupKates, adds that additional permits (since the kitchen is housed in Contra Costa County) is an extra inconvenience and expense, but both agree these are minor quibbles in the grand scheme of running a food business here.

Ancient Organics, which makes Ghee, called The Artisan Kitchen home for about three years, before moving to their own kitchen in West Berkeley recently. “Our company had grown to a size where we simply needed our own space designed for our needs,” explains Matteo Girard Maxon, who echoes other tenants when he says The Artisan Kitchen stood out when he and his partner were looking for a space. “But the level of professionalism at The Artisan Kitchen is special. Everyone is focused on building their business. We just outgrew it or we’d still be there.”

For the pair behind CC Made, who sell gourmet caramel popcorn, affordability was also a factor. “The Artisan Kitchen had a good price structure that was clear and concise,” says co-owner Cassandra Chen.  “I had been to some kitchens and the pricing at most of these places was confusing and high.” Ingham charges either an hourly rate for a shared space or a set fee for your own station for producers who book a block of time each week.

Megan Gordon - owner Marge Bakery and BAB blogger. Photo by Sarah Henry
Megan Gordon, owner of Marge Bakery. Photo: Sarah Henry

Adds newcomer and BAB contributor Megan Gordon of Marge Bakery. “the other folks are driven, inspiring entrepreneurs who I’ve already learned a lot from. It’s a nice community — not just a place to come and throw together some dough.”

Cupcake queen McEachern concurs. “Having other professionals in the kitchen was a huge help when I first started,” she says. “More experienced chefs can troubleshoot when things inevitably go wrong. Plus, even professionals need to borrow a cup of sugar from their neighbor occasionally.”

For owner Ingham the benefits go beyond business: “Even though the economy has been bad it’s a great feeling to have a place for artisans so they can create and fulfill their dreams — and make a good living doing so.”

This post originally appeared on KQED’s Bay Area Bites and was republished on Civil Eats.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexandra May 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm

So many incredibly good ideas come out of the SF Bay area. I just hope they percolate across the country and reach Cape Cod some day.
Alexandra´s last [type] ..Write Me a Haiku


Sarah Henry May 10, 2011 at 4:06 pm

I suspect the co-op kitchen concept is alive and well in other parts of the country. They may just not get much press, Sandy.


Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple May 11, 2011 at 6:52 am

they are percolating in Santa Barbara too!


Sarah Henry May 16, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Do tell, Marcia.


debbie koenig May 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm

They’re trying to come up with something like this in Brooklyn, where I live. Too many people selling food out of their homes, and the city gets pissed. Such a smart idea.
debbie koenig´s last [type] ..Newsflash- Bribe Your Kids and Theyll Eat Vegetables


Sarah Henry May 10, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Makes sense, Debbie, that plans would be brewing for this kind of model in food-focused Brooklyn. Will you take me on an edible excursion when I’m there next?


Sheryl May 10, 2011 at 5:53 pm

What a wonderful concept. I’ll bet when you walk into this place the cooking odors are incredible!


Sarah Henry May 11, 2011 at 7:09 am

Especially when the bakers are in the house, Sheryl.


Jane Boursaw May 10, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Oh that’s very cool. I wondered when you wrote about pop-up restaurants where they did their cooking. This makes a lot of sense and fosters a sense of community among the foodies, too.
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..Five Reasons Why Pirates 4 Will be the Best of the Franchise


Sarah Henry May 11, 2011 at 7:11 am

The sense of community is something that all the artisans and chefs commented on, Jane. I think for newcomers, such resources and experience is truly valuable.


merr May 11, 2011 at 6:26 pm

I am in constant awe of the wonderful projects and ideas brewing in your neighborhood, Sarah. Truly community oriented, and community building. Fantastic.


Sarah Henry May 23, 2011 at 9:06 pm

I know what you mean, merr. It does feel some days like that very term “community” is a tad overused, and yet I find examples of it everywhere I turn.


MyKidsEatSquid May 13, 2011 at 11:29 am

Wow, this does make so much sense for the smaller companies to share space. As always, thanks for giving a peek of the exciting happenings in your area!


Sarah Henry May 16, 2011 at 1:12 pm

It’s the kind of idea that could work well in many communities where smaller food businesses are trying to make a go of it.


Casey@Good. Food. Stories. May 13, 2011 at 1:23 pm

I am constantly impressed by the number of small, thriving food businesses you have in your area. And everyone seems so cooperative! (pun intended)
Casey@Good. Food. Stories.´s last [type] ..Chicken cutlets- the ultimate home-cooked dinner


Sarah Henry May 16, 2011 at 1:14 pm

The sense I got, Casey, was that the community such a kitchen creates overrides any issues that arise for the folks who work there.


Melanie Haiken May 16, 2011 at 10:29 am

This is such a great idea for a business. I hope others all over the country follow her model. And the fact that it’s close to Marin gives me hope that maybe the food truck trend will finally get going over here. The Larkspur Ferry Terminal just started a weekly food truck festival and we’re hoping it catches on!


Sarah Henry May 16, 2011 at 1:15 pm

We’ll have to go, M, perfect midway meetup. Is the Larkspur food truck fest part of Off the Grid, or its own event?


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