Stories from the Field

CommonWealth Kitchen

Every day, the Fresh Food Generation food truck heads out to Dorchester, Roxbury and other Boston neighborhoods with freshly cooked, locally sourced, healthy, affordable food. 

“The goal was to get healthy food into neighborhoods that need it the most,” says Cassandria Campbell, the co-owner of Fresh Food Generation. She and her business partner, Jackson Renshaw, work with local farms to increase access to fresh, locally produced foods in neighborhoods where residents have historically struggled to find healthy options.

Through culturally appropriate, prepared foods, Cassandria and Jackson are providing a healthy alternative to fast food and corner stores. They are currently the only food truck serving the Dudley Square neighborhood of Roxbury, and are quickly becoming the go-to caterer for multiple neighborhood organizations. Since launching in 2014, they’ve been on a roll, quadrupling their food production in less than two years.

Fresh Food Generation’s growth can be largely attributed to their partnership with CommonWealth Kitchen, a shared commercial kitchen facility and food business incubator based in Dorchester.

Fresh Food Generation’s journey at CommonWealth Kitchen started in August 2014. “Before, we were bouncing around between different commercial kitchens,” Cassandria explains, “But CommonWealth Kitchen gave us a place where we could settle down and focus on producing food and building our business, not on finding kitchen space.”

Their story is a common one. Many food businesses struggle with turning their great idea into an actual product. The start-up process for food companies is expensive and complex. It takes an enormous amount of time and resources, often exceeding what food business entrepreneurs have in hand when they start out.

“What we saw were amazing entrepreneurs struggling to figure out the mind-numbingly complicated process of starting a food business,” says CommonWealth Kitchen Executive Director Jen Faigel. “Finding licensed kitchen space, being able to afford the specialized equipment you need, plus working through all of the complications of health permits, insurance regulations, packaging and labeling requirements, marketing, and distribution - these place enormous burdens on new businesses just trying to get started, and yet for an awful lot of people, having a business or career in the food industry can be a great opportunity.”

 

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CommonWealth Kitchen developed as a resource to help remove these barriers, by providing fully-equipped commercial kitchen facilities combined with integrated business assistance to aspiring food businesses. 

“Our mission is really about building the infrastructure needed to create strong businesses and jobs within the food sector, and to strengthen the regional food economy,” says Jen. CommonWealth Kitchen allows new and growing food businesses to rent fully-equipped, licensed kitchen space on an hourly basis – and only when they need it. “There was a real need to lower the barriers for people trying to start a business by creating space that people could come in and use affordably when they needed to.”

By helping food businesses develop and expand, CommonWealth Kitchen is aiding in the success of local food businesses as well as the creation of new jobs in the Dorchester community.

“The staff at CommonWealth Kitchen is very in tune with the surrounding neighborhood and the needs so they know how to support our mission of cooking real food,” says Cassandria. Having the support of an organization that understands Fresh Food Generation’s mission has been vital to their success.

“Fresh Food Generation is, by choice, working in low-income communities, so it is a struggle for them to make the economics work,” Jen says. “We worked very closely with them to streamline the cooking process and figure out how to make their pricing work.”

Being a member of CommonWealth Kitchen’s food business incubator means not only receiving technical support from the staff, but also hands on kitchen support. “We are very much engaged with our members around the business development side of what they’re doing, not only getting into our kitchen and having a place to work, but also helping them think about how to scale, reach new markets, and become efficient in their process,” Jen says. The staff teaches new business entrepreneurs how to use the equipment, be an efficient business owner, and even helps with recipe development, purchasing, and marketing.

“Being a food entrepreneur is really challenging – it’s helpful to have the support of other people, and to work in a collaborative environment with other businesses. We all share information that otherwise we would not have access to,” says Cassandria. “We’ve grown tremendously since being at CommonWealth Kitchen and having the support of the staff and the other members has been a huge asset and benefit to us. Neither my business partner nor I come from the culinary world. So having staff that are familiar with the equipment and can teach us more efficient kitchen practices is critical.”

The development and operations of the CommonWealth Kitchen’s new Dorchester location has been supported in part by grant funding from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation. The new facility, which opened at the renovated former Pearl Meats Factory in June of 2014, has more than tripled their kitchen capacity.

“In just the last year I think we started about 25 new businesses that have been able to come online because of our new facility and created 75 new jobs,” says Jen. Since CommonWealth Kitchen’s Jamaica Plain facility opened in 2009 and with the addition of the Dorchester facility, CommonWealth Kitchen has supported more than 100 start-ups. Today, they have 50 members using their space each month, employing close to 150 people. Over 65% of their businesses are minority and/or women owned.  Since their start in 2009, many of CommonWealth Kitchen’s enterprises, such as Clover Food Lab, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, Voltage Coffee, Alex’s Ugly Sauce, BATCH Ice Cream, Quinn Popcorn, and Nella’s Pasta, have gone on to establish their own retail operations.

“It’s very helpful being around an organization, culture, staff, and community who really believe everybody deserves access to quality food and quality local jobs,” says Cassandria. “I wasn’t sure what to expect going into a space with so many businesses, but when I enter CommonWealth Kitchen it’s like home away from home.” 

Learn more: CommonWealth Kitchen