Wichita’s Reverie turning kitchen into a startup incubator

Reverie Coffee Roasters’ Andrew Gough has a big commercial kitchen in his coffee shop at 2202 E. Douglas, and for now, his staff is using it only to produce pastries.

Meanwhile, budding food entrepreneurs around Wichita are finding themselves needing commercial kitchen space to get their businesses started — but lacking the budget to build one.

So Gough has recently settled on a plan that will help him bring in some extra money during COVID-19 and will also help new food businesses get an affordable start.

He’s just started renting out his kitchen in four-hour blocks, and already, a half dozen startups have expressed interest in or have signed up to use the space while the coffee shop is open. Among them are a pizza food truck that’s about to open, a wholesale pasta business that’s almost ready to launch, a new Japanese bakery, and a chef starting a business selling ready-to-cook sous vide dishes.

Gough is calling the space, which he refers to as a new-business “incubator,” the The Founders Creative Kitchen.

Renting out commercial kitchen space is not a new idea, Gough said. In big cities, shared kitchen spaces are common.

But it’s not widely done in Wichita, at least not yet. Gough said he knows of one other kitchen in town that’s renting out space, and there are individual partnerships forming all over town.

Churn & Burn ice cream shop owner Christian Shomberg, for example, recently started donating kitchen space to former employee, MacKenzie Gnapp, whose growing new business On the Flipside sells cheesecake-stuffed waffle cones.

And earlier this year, the owners of The Candle Club started letting Against the Grain owners Pam Bugler and Simon Bugler use their event space kitchen to produce their gluten-free menu.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created all kinds of challenges for people in the food business, Gough said, and sharing resources is one way restaurant and commercial kitchen owners can help contribute to the greater good.

“We’ve been challenged in every way possible to think outside the box,” said Gough, who just a couple of weeks ago reopened his lobby for dine-in visitors following a long period of doing to-go business only. “Our kitchen is running and selling a fraction of what it used to, and we have obligations that are still very large, like rent. This is one way that makes us feel more comfortable in being able to meet our financial needs, and other businesses get a lot of benefits, too.”

Reverie Coffee Roasters is allowing other business startups into its underutilized commercial kitchen. Travis Heying The Wichita Eagle

‘Entrepreneurial ecosystem’

Gough said that over the years, he’s been asked by several friends in the food business if they could use his kitchen space, which he built in 2017 with plans to turn Reverie into a full-service lunch and dinner destination.

The new shop opened in January 2018, but by fall of that year, his plans had changed. He decided a full-service restaurant wasn’t the right fit for his shop, and he scaled food service back.

He’d been thinking about how to better utilize the space when he met with Dana Huber-Plummer and her son, Sam, who later this month are opening a Wichita food truck version of Pizza Kwik, the popular Jefferson City pizza joint her family ran for decades.

The two needed a licensed space where they could produce their homemade dough and pizza sauce, and they found Gough. The two parties quickly came to an agreement, and Gough realized he had room for other such businesses.

The space works not only for food truck owners but also for startup food business owners that don’t have licensed kitchens. It’s an all-too familiar story in Wichita, and it’s been told on repeat during COVID-19: Cook decides to start selling his or her specialty, advertises on social media, produces food at home, builds a following, and then is shut down by the state because commercial food businesses aren’t allowed to operate out of home kitchens.

That’s happened in the last year or so to several local businesses, including Rice & Roll by Xing Xing, whose owner Tuong Huynh was ordered to stop making her signature egg rolls from home. She now has her own restaurant space. The same thing happened to Grandma Thuy’s owner Mai Vo, who also now has a to-go restaurant space.

Gough said he has worked out a calendar and has space for about 10 different businesses to use his kitchen as part of what he calls an “entrepreneurial ecosystem.” Those who sign up get dedicated time in the kitchen, can use Reverie’s professional equipment and even get space for cold and dry storage.

They can’t sell their items from the restaurant, Gough said, but in the right circumstance, he could see himself buying his tenants’ products wholesale to offer in his coffee shop.

One of the businesses already signed up is Roger Cox’s soon-to-open Revo. Cox, a career chef, lost his job heading the cafe at the Sedgwick County Zoo at the start of the pandemic and decided to start his own business based around one of his passions: sous vide cooking.

He’s planning to serve pre-seasoned and pre-packaged items such as steaks, chops, chicken and fish that people can purchase and prepare using their at-home sous vide cookers.

Cox said that, as a longtime chef, he knew he had to have a commercial kitchen to launch the business, so he approached Gough with the idea of renting his space. He helped Gough set up the kitchen for others to use, and now, Cox has taken over managing the kitchen schedule.

Since then, Gough also has signed up Kristina Grappo, who is starting a homemade wholesale pasta business called Viola’s Pantry, and Misaki Charney, the owner of Komugi Japanese Bakery.

“Having this has been a real boon,” Cox said. “Andrew is a real lifesaver. When you’re starting, if you can operate inside of an already permitted and licensed space, it makes it a lot easier.”

Anyone interested in available slots in the kitchen may visit the website https://www.reverieroasters.com/founders-creative-kitchen.

Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.

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