Non-Commercial Kitchen Options for Your Mobile Food Business
Depending on the area in which you're operating your food truck, you may find that either all the shared-use commercial kitchens are full (or not taking on any additional renters) or that the available selections don’t meet your requirements. Don’t fret; a number of other valid solutions exist.
Commercial kitchens are designated by the state and local health departments and can take form in a number of different venues, from a local restaurant to the church around the corner, from the VFW Hall to your local high school. Because these organizations provide food to the general public, their kitchens must go through the same permitting and inspection processes as the shared-use kitchens do.
Rent kitchen space from a restaurant
Renting a restaurant kitchen during a time when the restaurant is closed is a solid option for a food truck owner. This arrangement is likely to cost less than using a traditional commercial kitchen because the restaurant owner isn’t relying on your usage fees (kitchen rental isn’t his core business).
The space would otherwise go unused during the restaurant’s off-business hours, so the money it collects from you for using the kitchen is gravy. Furthermore, you know exactly when you can (and can’t) use a specific restaurant’s kitchen, and this knowledge helps you avoid the scheduling issues that can occur with a shared-use kitchen.
Knowing what a restaurant pays in rent each month can be helpful in your negotiations. For example, if a restaurant pays $3,000 per month in rent, and you offer to rent the kitchen in off-hours for half of that, the owner will likely take you up on your offer.
Check out churches and synagogues for kitchen space
Many churches and synagogues have underutilized kitchens that they’re often willing to rent out to local entrepreneurs. If you plan on serving kosher menu items, visit the synagogues in your area as well as the Jewish community center and other local Jewish organizations to see whether a kitchen is available for your use.
If you’re a member of a church, speak with your priest, minister, bishop, preacher, or rabbi and volunteer to assume responsibility of overseeing the utilities, pest control, and/or other various kitchen inspections. Providing this type of service to your church can be rewarding, and it allows you to barter your personal time for the use of this licensed kitchen.
Some churches can’t receive rent per se for the use of their facilities, so you have to find another way to donate to the church. One idea is to volunteer to cater church events. The resources of a professional chef and gourmet food for church events may be a match made in heaven for both you and the church.
You don’t need to be a member of a specific church or religious group to find out whether it’s willing to allow you to use its kitchen.
Consider social clubs for your food truck's kitchen
The local Moose Lodge, VFW, Elks Lodge, or a similar organization may have a health-inspected and certified commercial kitchen that you can rent for your food truck business. As with churches, you may be able to use these kitchens rent-free if you agree to cater events for the organization as a means of payment or donation.
School kitchens are options for kitchen space
To locate a licensed commercial kitchen, reach out to educational facilities. The lunch lady isn’t allowed to serve students out of her home kitchen, so schools are required to prepare their meals in their own commercial kitchen, meaning it likely has the licensing you need for your food truck business.
Depending on the size of the student population, a school’s kitchen may be the perfect place for you to prepare your mobile cuisine. Call local culinary schools, high schools, and universities to find out whether they have a licensed commercial kitchen. Speak with the kitchen manager and ask about times when the kitchen may be empty and available for your use.
If you grew up in the area, first check with the schools you attended. Being able to play the alumnus card is a great way to start the conversation.