Photo provided by: SecretPenguin
Recently Erin Dyer, managing director of the Kitchen Council, took the time to answer a few questions about the Kitchen Council and what the food startup incubator means for the Greater Omaha area. The Kitchen Council, a Greater Omaha Chamber program, is scheduled to open in January with its facility located at 40 Arena Way, Suite 11, in Council Bluffs, Iowa (formerly Famous Dave’s). Members will have access to more than 2,500 square feet of fully licensed commercial kitchen, as well as help managing the challenges that come along with running a food business.”
As a way to introduce themselves to the community, the Kitchen Council held The Kitchen Council Pitch on September 29. At the free event, a select group of local food entrepreneurs were invited to share their goods with the public and a panel of judges. Obed Sanchez, owner of Grainolia Bakery, was selected as the grand prize winner. He also shared his thoughts with us regarding what the Kitchen Council means to him and his business.
Erin Dyer, managing director of the Kitchen Council
Tell us a little bit about your role at the Chamber and with the Kitchen Council.
Dyer: I am the Managing Director of Kitchen Council. Until recently I was working for the Greater Omaha Chamber in Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the region, and my passion for local food led me to this project. For the past year I have been working with other Chamber staff and our partners on plans for Kitchen Council—researching different models and what will work best in our market, learning from our consulting experts at Union Kitchen, fundraising, locating a facility and preparing it for renovation, recruiting new kitchen members, and everything else in between needed to launch a new entity like this.
What was the inspiration for the Kitchen Council?
Dyer: We had a lot of inspiration to create Kitchen Council. We had been looking at ways to increase entrepreneurship in the Council Bluffs area, and so many things pointed us to look at food. Our area has a rich history in food. Being located in the breadbasket of America, we’re surrounded by small farms, a thriving restaurant scene and the presence of major corporations in the industry. With the growing local food movement, demand has increased for smaller artisan, locally made products, but it’s not easy for new food entrepreneurs. They don’t have a lot of places to go with the space or the advice they need to get started. Just when we started looking at the concept of a kitchen incubator, we heard the announcement that ConAgra was moving its headquarters, and it drove home how much we need this in our community right now. The future of food is in small and specialty businesses with a focus on local, and Kitchen Council will make it possible for more of those businesses to launch and grow.
What did/will it take to get Kitchen Council to become a reality?
Dyer: It took a lot of research and a lot of community support to get to this point, and it’s so close to becoming a reality. We looked at a lot of different kitchen incubators before deciding Union Kitchen had a model that would make the biggest impact and most directly address the needs of food entrepreneurs in our area. They’ve provided a ton of help with getting started. We’re also incredibly fortunate to have the Iowa West Foundation driving this project and providing the facility for us to launch, as well as the support of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, Greater Omaha Chamber, the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce and the Omaha Development Foundation. The entire region has been very encouraging of what we’re doing, and that makes a big difference. The final piece is renovating the space and installing equipment so entrepreneurs can get cooking in January!
Tell us a little bit about the recent pitch contest. What was the goal, and did you accomplish it?
Dyer: The Kitchen Council pitch was a great event for us! Our goal was to celebrate local food entrepreneurship while introducing the community to our concept, and it was a great night for both. We had six different food startups offering samples to the audience and then pitching their businesses to our judges for the chance to win either a $500 audience choice award or a $1,000 grand prize. The community got to try some food and hear about what’s new in their local food scene, and the startups got some exposure with a new audience and the opportunity to land some funds for their business. We had a great turnout, received a lot of interest in Kitchen Council and even signed up a few new members.
What are you most excited about with the launch of the Kitchen Council?
Dyer: I get really excited when I walk an entrepreneur through the space and see their eyes light up thinking about all the possibilities this creates for their business. It’s such a thrill to think that Kitchen Council could push a new food business to its next level of success.
What does an endeavor like this mean for the Greater Omaha community?
Dyer: It means so much for the community—a supportive environment that encourages entrepreneurship in food, a growing local food scene, more investments and jobs. It could lead to your next favorite corner bakery, or maybe the condiment you can’t eat a sandwich without or the dessert your family and friends will travel miles to get their hands on. Food brings people and communities together, and this opens up more opportunities to do just that.
Local baker Obed Sanchez, owner of Grainolia Bakery
Tell us a little about yourself and your business.
Sanchez: I am a local baker from Omaha. I started baking when I was about 17 years of age as a junior in high school. At first, I started business by making 100 cookies every day, then selling them the next day at school. Eventually I learned to make everything I do now. A friend told me about the farmers markets, and from there, Grainolia Bakery was born. We now offer a variety of different breads, pastries and desserts from around the world to provide our customers a unique product that they have never tried before. All of our baking is made entirely from scratch with 100 percent natural quality ingredients. We do not use any artificial flavorings, food colorings or preservatives to ensure our customers always get the best.
Tell us about your experience—how you heard about it, why you decided to get involved and what went into the process.
Sanchez: One of the people I met at a farmers market who works at the Chamber told the Kitchen Council about me. I later met with Erin, and she told me what the project was all about. I thought it was an awesome project, and figured, why not? I have also always wanted to participate in a competition, and the way this one was set up was a great way to really take your time and bring forth your very best. So I worked two days, about 35 consecutive hours, and made as much as I could.
What was it like to win?
Sanchez: I guess everyone goes into a competition believing they will win. If not, why do it? But as the moment of truth gets closer, you start to doubt you will until you believe yourself you won’t. When it was announced that Grainolia Bakery had won the grand prize, I couldn’t believe it and thought it was a joke for a split second. Of course, I was extremely thankful, happy and glad I had stayed up working all those hours to give my best, because in the end it was all worth it.
What do you plan to do with the prize money?
Sanchez: I plan to pay off my commercial oven.
What does the Kitchen Council mean to you and your business in the future?
Sanchez: The Kitchen Council is definitely a huge stepping-stone for me. It is nearly impossible for food entrepreneurs to grow their business without a licensed kitchen; therefore, having one at an affordable cost will open so many more business opportunities. I will finally be able to offer my product to local shops/grocery stores and finally have enough space.
What does an endeavor like this mean for the Greater Omaha community?
Sanchez: I don’t think a project like this has ever happened in Omaha, so I believe that these efforts will have a huge positive impact on the community. We could see an increase in the number of entrepreneurs, as well as more help for us like this project with the Kitchen Council has created. Thank you so much for this opportunity, and I am super excited for when it all comes together.