By Michael Davidson
When most people are asked to describe a commercial kitchen, they will usually think of a place where people cook food to sell to people. They may imagine them to be small, chaotic places where cooks and prep workers toil 24 hours a day. The more informed foodie will probably mention La Cocina, a non-profit organization in the Mission district and commercial kitchen incubator, which just held the very popular SF Street Food Festival this past weekend. Another is La Placita, a similar, Oakland-based operation that works with food trucks and carts in the Bay Area, including the fruit stands and taco trucks that can be found in places like Fruitvale.
Celebrating its one-year anniversary this Thursday, Kitchener Oakland, which is located at 372 24th Street, is, and will continue to be, an active and progressive take on the commercial kitchen that takes some lessons from these predecessors, put keeps on raising the bar.
Much of this comes from the fact that its founder, Sophia Chang, is not taking a sitting role as “House Mom” or “Mom”, as she is known in the kitchen. Chang not only rents the kitchen out to vendors –such as Dutch waffle makers The Stroopie Gourmet and rillettes specialists Wooden Spoons, both featured recently on Nosh — but also helps to promote them and sell their products through events at Kitchener such as Market Pop-Ups. She also reaches out to and collaborates with many other organizations around the community.
Last week, for example, a number of Kitchener vendors were at the beverage-focused DrinkEntrepreneurs held at Folsom Foundry in San Francisco, providing food to pair with the bar fare.
Chang’s timing in opening Kitchener was serendipitous. The East Bay’s mobile food scene has exploded recently, with mobile food events such as Bites Off Broadway and Off the Grid, which this past year has added the Oakland Museum of California and El Cerrito to its schedule of street food markets. This is in addition to the many food-related pop-ups in the city, as well as occasional food pods being tested out by the city of Oakland.
With a burgeoning number of artisan food start-ups, the need for commercial kitchen space is at a high. Kitchener Oakland has the advantage of being conveniently located and accessible to the community. Chang understands the benefit of this and is planning to build two Kitchener takeout windows that will be shared among the resident artisans and will “give them a chance to have a brick-and-mortar storefront with little financial risk.”
Asked her how she feels about what she has created, Chang said: “It’s a beautiful thing. It’s a community which exudes warmth, a community that is safe and kind, and that’s never a bad thing.”
As for the future, Chang already has her sights set on other Kitcheners events in new locations. She’s considering both San Luis Obispo and San Rafael.
Featured artisans for Thursday’s one-year anniversary party:
- Barbarian Gourmet – Mushroom pot pies and vegetable tian (vegan)
- Bump City Bakery – St. Germain cupcakes and saucy strawberry mini pies
- Common Fare Foods – Texas Squealers (1/2 beef, 1/2 bacon) and Santorini Sliders (fig-glazed lamb burgers)
- Javi’s Cooking – Argentine empanadas and alfajores
- Ruby Red Kitchen – Fresh corn tamales with roasted poblanos and goat cheese
- Tart! Bakery – Chocolate mousse, flourless chocolate cake, and seasonal pie slices
- Uptown Juice Company – Colorful cold-pressed juices
- Wooden Spoons – Duck, pork, or salmon rillettes on crostini
- * Lusu Cellars – Heritage and Rhone style wines made in Berkeley
- * East Bay Dish – A resource for food news, event announcements, and more on the East Bay food scene.