Sharing appetites for food

Incubator kitchen spaces provide startup opportunities for entrepreneurs in Lancaster and York

Adele Saleng of Neilly's Foods prepares plantains at York's YorKitchen, where small-business owners can sign up for times to use the kitchen to cook or bake their products. This way, startups can cut down on costs by not having to purchase their own kitchen spaces and equipment. Photo/Bil Bowden

Joseph Lane and his wife have spent seven years in China after opening a pizzeria there. Now, they are coming back to the United States to make fruitcake in York.

Their business, Dot & Eva’s Oven Ltd., is one of the newest tenants of the YorKitchen food business incubator that opened last year adjacent to the York-based Central Market House Co.

Lane and his wife, Barbara, had kept their home in Connecticut while they opened and managed their pizzeria in China. But they found the midstate to be the best option to springboard their latest endeavor, Lane said.

His sister-in-law is a research scientist who said her firm has worked with incubators in Pennsylvania, and the Internet helped to take care of the rest, he said. And Lane plans to keep the business in the York area as it grows.

Community kitchens are what the name implies — full-scale, fully equipped kitchens that can be used by anyone in a community for a fee.

Although YorKitchen is a business incubator, it is not only available to startup businesses and catering companies.

Anyone who needs a large area in which to operate can rent space there, said Aeman Bashir, manager of new- and small-business development with the York County Economic Alliance.

As a business incubator, the kitchen also helps would-be business owners navigate the shoals of licensure and regulatory practices, she said.

Since opening around the middle of last year, YorKitchen has seen more than 50 users, Bashir said.

The kitchen also has been used by civic groups for large events and individuals for personal use.

“Around the holidays, people don’t want to take weeks and weeks to bake Christmas cookies, so they rent the kitchen,” she said.

Or, in the case of Dot & Eva’s, a user can make fruitcake for more than just the holidays.

The firm is named partly for a close family friend, Dot; the recipe comes from her and goes back generations, Lane said. Eva is Lane’s mother, who made and sent fruitcake to him while he was a single father.

More recently, Lane said, he had cataract surgery and thanked the medical personnel by making them some of the cakes. When he returned for a follow-up, they joked that they were going to undo the work if he didn’t hand over the recipe.

“And we decided that maybe this is the right time (to start a fruitcake business),” Lane said.

He and his wife are workaholics, he said, so they have to do something when they come home from China.

Working with Bashir helped to seal the deal to come to York instead of the Baltimore area, which also was considered, Lane said. He said he didn’t see any comparable facilities in the Connecticut area.

YorKitchen is just one such facility helping to incubate food businesses in the midstate. Another is the East Side Community Kitchen in Lancaster.

Srirupa Dasgupta owns Upohar Ethnic Cuisines, an ethnic food catering company in Lancaster and one of the businesses that uses the community kitchen.

The goal of her business is to give the greater Lancaster area access to ethnic food that “is not available elsewhere,” she said. Her business specializes in Iraqi, Nepalese, vegetarian and vegan cuisines.

The enterprise has another key facet: “Our social mission is to generate employment,” Dasgupta said.

Her company is still young, and the existence of the community kitchen has allowed it to grow.

“Because it’s a startup, it’s still experimental. I wasn’t sure how it would be received, so it has been great that I could use the space without taking on huge overhead (costs),” Dasgupta said.

Beyond the shared space that means no enormous outlay of upfront expenses, the community aspect of the kitchen means there are other people around her in the food business she can use as a resource.

“I got to learn from them. It really worked out well from that perspective. It allowed me to bootstrap the entire operation,” Dasgupta said.

The idea for the community kitchen in York came from research on making agriculture-related enterprises more successful, Bashir said.

The research showed that the best way to promote agriculture was to diversify and that the structure of a community kitchen or shared kitchen would be the best resource to produce value-added products, Bashir added.

“It helps small businesses take it to the next level and helps spur continued growth,” she said.

Currently, there are nine or 10 businesses in the pipeline, Bashir said. YorKitchen can be rented for $25 an hour and includes access to the Rojahn Performance Kitchen, donated by York County-based Rojahn Custom Cabinetry.

One of the businesses that uses YorKitchen is William Lenhart’s The Pie Shop. The business sells both sweet and savory pies and started as a stand in Central Market.

“Rather than me investing, they already had the equipment. I knew there was a market for pies, but I didn’t know how big,” Lenhart said. “If I had taken out a loan and purchased equipment and then the market wasn’t there, I would have been stuck with the loans. This was a beautiful marriage.”

Recently, he celebrated two milestone accomplishments.

“I got through my first year and I made a profit,” Lenhart said. “Not a lot, but at the end of the day, we saw black, not red.”

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