Pandemic restrictions may have taken a bite out of the food industry but not the desire to eat good food.
And thanks to a new trend of commissary kitchens, where food entrepreneurs can share kitchen rental costs while they produce tasty meals and specialty food items, the Tri-Cities is becoming a foodie hub.
The most recent entry is GongYou Kitchen, a commissary kitchen in Port Coquitlam where nine businesses are developing and selling a wide variety of specialty food items, from condiments, to Korean-style meats to baked goods and sauces.
As the name implies, (Gong means share in Korean), GongYou Kitchen is all about sharing: ideas, kitchen space, a cafe where food is test marketed, and costs, said owner Bridgette Hyun.
“There are so many talented people out there,” said Hyun, whose commissary kitchen is catering to this growing community of food entrepreneurs.
Once food business owners realize they’ve outgrown their home kitchen, they can rent space at a commercial kitchen. It’s a great way to scale up and also collaborate with others in marketing and product development.
“People can start up own food business in a healthy way and minimize costs in starting up,” said Hyun.
It’s a direct-to-market approach that doesn’t require a lot of overhead or staff with customers ordering online, often through apps or a website.
GongYou Kitchen is located at 1120-950 Seaborne Ave., where a cafe is open to the public.
Not far away is Sincerely Kitchen, a food business incubator, located at 551 Sherling Pl., where owner Maria Rodriguez has seen a surge in new people looking for kitchen space to expand their business.
PANDEMIC A ‘ROLLER COASTER’ FOR FOOD CREATORS
“It’s been like a roller coaster. We’ve had a bunch of businesses that left because they needed to cut costs or lost their jobs, now we have a wave of new people who lost jobs and want to try and start something different,” said Rodriguez, who started Sincerely Kitchen seven years ago and now has 20 businesses working out of her commercial kitchen.
Hyun acknowledged that many restaurants and commercial food producers have struggled during the pandemic, but there has also been a flowering of creativity, thanks to newcomers getting into the industry.
The trend towards people ordering online, and having their food delivered, is also inspiring chefs who are operating out of so-called ghost kitchens — where they can satisfy dining urges without the need for a brick and mortar business.
“Brick and motor restaurants have big overhead costs, it’s killing small business owners like us, whether we make it not we still have the same overhead costs we have to pay,” said Hyun, who shifted her own business model since the pandemic.
Three years ago, Hyun started C Market Coffee boutique café and roastery in Coquitlam but when she had to close temporarily during the pandemic, she started to look at other ways to survive.
GongYou Kitchen is a way to grow the bakery part of her business while sharing costs with other food industry business owners who were willing to collaborate.
“This is a perfect place for a new start-up to start easy and use a licensed facility and they can get help with others who have the experience,” Hyun said.
Businesses working out of GongYou Kitchen include;
Millda Bakery: Korean-style cakes, macarons,
Seoul Paradise: Korean-style pork intestine,
C. Market Coffee: roastery, coffee beans,
Chao + Pan: snacks from Laos and Thailand,
Infusion Premium Soy Sauce: ginger, sriracha, garlic infused soy sauces,
Gary’s Patisserie: mango flower cake, durian cake, cakes and cookies in a jar
Meat Chew: Korean jerky
Ichthus Sushi: sushi restaurant operating as a ghost kitchen,