Right out of the gate it’s important for me to confess that I’m a bona-fide, died in the wool foodie. It started in my mom’s kitchen growing up, where the smells of special dinners always piqued my interest, but it didn’t really start to become a creative outlet until I was married, working, and coming home in the evenings stressed from days at work and in need of some sort of buffer to separate my thoughts from the work-a-day world and be present at home.
My first thought upon clicking through channels back then was something like, you’ve got to be kidding! A whole channel devoted to food? Back then FoodTV was a series of actual cooking shows. Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” — probably still the best educational food TV show since Julia Child — was a staple. I loved watching Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa,” with her approach to highlighting fresh, locally sourced ingredients in simple dishes at home. Bobby Flay’s shows were always a hit, but the coup de gras for me was Emeril.
Emeril made cooking look fun. And when I tried it, I quickly discovered it was and is fun. That was close to 20 years ago and ever since then I have devoured as much educational content as I can handle. Robert Irvine in Restaurant Impossible convinced me that I could operate a restaurant, and I’ve done that too, and to this day there are few things I love more than working with my chef to improve our menu or fine tuning service details with our exceptional front-of-house team.
I’d run a series of large and small tech companies, and while I loved the restaurant I also knew there was something missing in my life. Then I started the interview process for Kitchen United, and I knew what it was. My restaurant, Town, lets me serve my community on a micro level. KU gives me a chance to participate in the industry at a macro level. At Town, I focus on providing a great experience for our guests; at KU, I focus on helping entrepreneurs succeed.
Where Dreams Fit
Everyone’s dream is important.
The evolution in consumer preference is reshaping the entire food industry. IWWIWWIWI (“I want what I want when I want it”) — germinated by ecommerce giants like Zappos and ultimately Amazon, and carried forward with the transformation of media giants like Netflix — is translating into all aspects of society and food service. Consumers question status quo practices and change happens rapidly. Cooking weeknight dinners at home used to be a given. Already, the only people who cook are those, like me, who do it because they love to.
The change in consumer preference and rise of consumer demand has supercharged growth in business and industry. Restaurants are architecting around delivery and KU is keenly focused on this space, but just as important is the abundance of local purveyors courageously raising their hands to stock Amazon’s shelves, provide product to farmers’ markets, cater parties, and feed the public out of the raised window of a food truck.
At KU we commonly say that we’re here to make dreams come true. It’s true. We’re not simply focused on providing kitchens for big restaurants looking for new regions. Every KU space has room set aside for the food service entrepreneur whose business may be just starting out or growing into its first commercial kitchen. We provide the resources, know-how, and infrastructure to help them succeed.
It’s important to understand that most of these folks won’t ever need a large commercial kitchen environment and they don’t want to need that (or need to want that). They need a little space to safely render their food. Today, across the country, finding that space is hard. We’re going to make it easy. Two or three years from now, when KU is fully deployed across the country, getting access to commercial kitchen space will be as easy for these users as access to their health club or local WeWork.
At KU what makes a good day great for me is having opportunities to step away from the strategic activities of the company to listen to ideas, challenges and problems these folks may be having. I love to roll up my sleeves and see if I can’t help to solve their problems. Whether it’s helping someone creating gluten-free pizza crust to come up with just the right consistency or talking with another person about how to price their product for sale in a local farmers market, I love being a part of their learning process. In most cases, they’ll figure out the answers on their own, but every once in a while, I feel I’ve helped.
KU serves both restaurants and food service entrepreneurs for a reason. We want our Kitchen Centers to be hubs of food thought and activity. We will provide in-service days where interested parties can hear about emerging food trends, try new ingredients, share successes and failures (and hugs and laughter). Commercial kitchens and entrepreneurial endeavors share a trait in common, they can be pressure-packed and lonely environments. Figuring out ways to make cooks’ lives better frees their creativity in ways no other environment can claim. The glimmer in the eye of the hopeful entrepreneur just starting out is invigorating to the tenured industry professional, and the experience of the jaded old pro is pure-spun gold to the unabashed newbie. We bring these communities together in a unique way, creating a 1+1=5 scenario that makes us all better.
And I get to taste the food and laugh and cry and work hard right alongside all of them.
What wakes me up…in the middle of the night? The problems I didn’t solve today. The people I didn’t help.
What gets me up in the morning? The idea that as a team we can dive in and make a giant difference, not just to the cooks themselves, but to the communities they serve.
No wonder I never sleep…
-Jim Collins | Chief Executive Officer-