Company: Your Pro Kitchen
Entrepreneur: Cindy Pickering
Location: Largo, FL
Website: Your Pro Kitchen
Those with a dream to produce food products to sell often are faced with the reality of needing a state approved facility from which to operate. Building such a facility can be quite expensive and risky, and mistakes are easy to make if you don’t have the experience, and knowledge, of how to do it right.
After opening a commercial kitchen to produce salsa, Cindy Pickering of Your Pro Kitchen got a big lesson in the high costs of opening such a facility. She also found out that there is an incredible demand for commercial kitchen space from chefs who cannot afford to open their own, but are required by state law to produce their food in one.
Your Pro Kitchen allows someone looking for commercial kitchen space, from chefs to a person looking to bring their mom’s carrot cake to market, to be spared the expense of opening up a dedicated, state approved facility. With a six month lease term, and a minimum hour commitment each month, culinary artisans are able to rent a full commercial kitchen by the hour.
Cindy, and her partners, have plans to expand their concept this year via franchising. The demand for commercial kitchen space that can be rented is increasing, especially in today’s economic climate, where having a dedicated facility is unrealistic for most culinary professionals. Your Pro Kitchen plans to be there to capture their share of this market.
In this Talking Small Biz interview, Cindy shares a little of what she has learned after starting two businesses, and gives a great answer about what to consider before choosing a name for your business.
What makes being an entrepreneur more appealing than working for someone else?
Your Pro Kitchen: I’m building my dreams – not someone else’s. I’m helping others to build their dreams, as well, and that’s a great feeling!
Your Pro Kitchen isn’t your first entrepreneurial venture. Previously, you produced salsa – initially from your home, then later from a commercial kitchen. What did you learn from the salsa making operation that you were able to use when it came time to start Your Pro Kitchen?
Your Pro Kitchen: How to build a commercial kitchen and not make the same costly mistakes that I made with my first kitchen.
The culinary industry can be expensive and daunting to get into, with the variety of state laws that must be complied with before the open sign can be hung on a company’s door. You have greatly reduced the barrier of entry by providing an affordable, state licensed and inspected, commercial kitchen facility, from which a culinary business can be run. Your Pro Kitchen even offers mentoring during the start-up process, as well as other business services. In other words, you offer a one-stop place for someone looking to start their own culinary business.
Even after offering all of this, making it much easier for someone to pursue their dreams of sharing their food with the world, not every customer that walks through your door is going to be a success. What percentage of your customers close up shop after giving self-employment their best shot?
Your Pro Kitchen: I would say about 10% which I think is a high number. I have found that just because a person has a passion to cook does not necessarily mean that they are ready for entrepreneurship.
There seems to be a demand for commercial kitchen facilities from those who are currently professional chefs without a location to practice their craft, to the next Martha Stewart who wants to share their culinary masterpieces with everyone. What has the reaction been to your concept within the culinary community?
Your Pro Kitchen: Amazing! Chef’s love our kitchen. It’s clean and has all the equipment needed to create their products! The kitchen is open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week to allow them to pursue their chance at self-employment.
You have already expanded your facility to keep up with the demand. Do you have plans of further expansion?
Your Pro Kitchen: Yes, our goal is to build our facility as needed.
Do you have any plans to take your concept to other areas of Florida, or even to other states?
Your Pro Kitchen: We are rolling out a program for franchise opportunities in 2012.
How many customers do you currently have?
Your Pro Kitchen: 60-70 small food companies use our kitchen on a monthly basis with a 6 month lease.
Are you anticipating an increase in interest from those who may be looking for a commercial kitchen facility to work out of?
Your Pro Kitchen: Yes, due mostly to the economy.
Below is a news piece about Your Pro Kitchen and some of their customers:
The concept of opening a commercial kitchen to give others a place to pursue their culinary dreams is a unique one. There aren’t many who have gone down this path. What was your family’s reaction when you told them you were going to explore these fairly uncharted waters?
Your Pro Kitchen: I doubted myself more than anyone because, when I researched this concept before I built the kitchen, I found that there was not another kitchen that could help people get into the food business. Currently, Your Pro Kitchen is the only one of it’s kind in the state of Florida and one of 4 in the US.
You are in business with your daughter and a couple of other family members. There are both horror stories involving family run businesses, as well as cases of true bliss. What is it like for you to be in business with those who you are closest to?
Your Pro Kitchen: The key is that everyone has a job description. It’s important to know what your responsibilities are.
Less than a year after starting your company, you changed its name to Your Pro Kitchen, which is a great reflection of the services you offer. A company’s name is a key part of its brand, and should be chosen carefully. Why did you change your company’s name?
Your Pro Kitchen: We changed our name to project more of what we are about.
What lessons can you share with others who may be trying to come up with a name for their business?
Your Pro Kitchen: Try to come up with a company name that describes what your company does. Be careful not to lock yourself into a name that limits you, just in case you want to branch out into another area of your business. And you need to LOVE the name you choose, because you’re gonna live with it for a very long time.
Do you use any online/web-based products and/or services to help you run Your Pro Kitchen?
Your Pro Kitchen: Yes, the scheduler on my website is the key to my business. It allows my customers to reserve their kitchen at their leisure and view others who are using the kitchen at the same time. They can also reserve the kitchen equipment they need, as well.
Being self-employed is a dream of many people, including those who are unemployed through no fault of their own, and those that are working in a job they can’t stand. What advice do you have for someone who is considering making the move to becoming self-employed?
Your Pro Kitchen: Being self-employed means you’ll never be un-employed.
“Motivation is when your dreams put on work clothes” – Ben Franklin
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
Read more Talking Small Biz interviews with other entrepreneurs to learn what they are doing.